SAN DIEGO — Attorneys for Mayor Roger Hedgecock Wednesday met privately with Dist. Atty. Edwin L. Miller for almost three hours to hammer out a possible settlement of a felony conspiracy and perjury case against the mayor, who faces a second trial on the charges in early May.
Wednesday's meeting may be the strongest sign yet that both sides are vigorously pursuing an out-of-court settlement because it included Miller, who had previously left the private negotiations to his chief aide, Assistant Dist. Atty. Richard D. Huffman.
During the negotiating session, attorneys also spoke by telephone with Dan Stanford, the chairman of the state's Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), to see whether the state agency would be willing to settle its $1.2-million civil lawsuit against Hedgecock as part of a plea-bargain agreement.
The meeting--the fourth in a series of "readiness conferences" convened by Superior Court Judge Ross G. Tharp--for the first time included Leo Sullivan and John R. Wertz, attorneys defending Hedgecock in the lawsuit filed against the mayor and others by the FPPC in October.
Sources close to plea bargain discussions have said any agreement on the criminal charges could hinge on whether the FPPC also would settle its suit with Hedgecock.
Huffman and Michael Pancer, Hedgecock's criminal attorney, also were present at Wednesday's meeting. They, Miller and the two civil attorneys met from 4 p.m. to 6:45 p.m. in Tharp's chambers.
Another conference is scheduled for 4 p.m. today.
After Wednesday's session, the attorneys declined comment on a possible plea-bargain agreement.
"We agreed not to discuss it, so I'm not going to discuss it," Pancer told reporters. Asked if Wednesday's meetings left him hopeful, Huffman said, "I'm tired."
As the lawyers were negotiating during the late afternoon, Hedgecock remained in his 11th-floor office at City Hall, conducting a meeting with a city task force studying the homeless in San Diego.
Reached later at his State Street home, Hedgecock said he was unaware of what happened during the readiness conference, which he called "just another meeting."
"There were no offers made on either side," Hedgecock said, adding that he had not talked to his attorneys since the conference had ended.
Hedgecock faces felony charges for what prosecutors say was a scheme to illegally funnel thousands of dollars into his successful 1983 mayoral campaign.
The first trial on 13 counts of felony conspiracy and perjury ended in a mistrial Feb. 13 when a Superior Court jury was deadlocked 11-1 in favor of conviction.
Since then, prosecutors have added two felony perjury charges and a misdemeanor charge of conflict of interest. The mayor faces a new trial on all of the counts May 8.
If the mayor and the district attorney's office achieve a plea bargain, it is likely to happen in the next few days.
Hedgecock's next court appearance is scheduled Monday before Superior Court Judge Barbara Gamer to decide who will be his defense attorney. Pancer, who represented him in the first trial, has asked to be relieved.
If Hedgecock were to pick a new attorney, the negotiations conducted Wednesday could be imperiled, said an adviser to the mayor, who asked not to be named. "At that point there would be more of a war mode," the adviser said.
While Wednesday's meeting was an official conference called by Tharp, the district attorney's office also confirmed that Pancer on his own approached Miller March 20.
Steve Casey, Miller's spokesman, said Pancer met with the district attorney in Miller's office March 20.
"I can confirm, yes, that Pancer came in and met with the district attorney at Mr. Pancer's request," said Steve Casey, Miller's spokesman.
"He (Pancer) was up here talking to Huffman Tuesday (March 19), and they set up the meeting" with Miller, Casey said.
Casey said the meeting between Miller and Pancer "indicated only that there have been conversations, but it doesn't indicate what the content of those conversations have been."
He also said it was "common practice for both sides informally to discuss whether or not there may be a settlement short of trial, and if so under what conditions."
About his face-to-face meeting on March 19 with Miller, Pancer said, "It wasn't important."
The first indication that Stanford had been brought into the negotiations occurred about 4:45 p.m., when a court clerk walked into the courtroom, dialed a long-distance number and asked for "Mr. Stanford."
Stanford later said, "At some point this afternoon, I did receive a call from the judge's chambers and conversed with the judge and the lawyers. . . . I've been asked by the judge not to comment on the subject of the conversation."
Asked whether an FPPC settlement was critical to a plea-bargain on the criminal charges, Stanford said it "wasn't told to me to be the position of any of the parties."
"My impression was that it was the first contact to determine whether we would be interested in discussing a possible resolution to our matter," Stanford said. "I told them that we would of course be interested in listening to whatever anybody had to say. They said we would talk further."
The FPPC suit asks $900,000 in fines from Hedgecock and $300,000 from other supporters for an alleged 450 violations of local campaign contribution ordinances. Stanford said any settlement of that suit would have to be approved by three of the five FPPC commissioners.
Staff writers Lanie Jones and Daniel M. Weintraub contributed to this story.