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Law was his game, not politics Tom Basinski | Sat, Dec 18 2010 12:00 PM

Everyone knows an incumbent has a leg up when it comes to re-election. After all, if the politician hasn't "forgotten" to pay income tax, hasn't run over a pedestrian while driving drunk with his mistress or gigolo as a passenger, or beaten up a spouse, chances are another term is in the future. Even those transgressions are not a guarantee of a loss at the polls. Heck, even dead incumbents win.

Would-be incumbent Chula Vista City Attorney Bart Miesfeld eschewed throwing his hat in the ring when the citizens of Chula Vista voted for the first time to elect a city attorney instead of allowing the city council to appoint one. One wonders why Miesfeld passed on the opportunity. Gee whiz, the unassuming, good-looking guy was a shoo-in.

Just to give you a little background, Miesfeld graduated Magna Cum Laude from California Western School of Law in 1986. For his first few years he worked as a trial lawyer in private practice.

After Bart and his wife had children, finding himself in various parts of the country doing trial work began to lose some of its luster. So, in 1998, after completing graduate law studies at Harvard, Miesfeld gave up large piles of money to work as a deputy city attorney for Chula Vista. The plan was for the city to put on more of their own trials instead of hiring outside firms.

That plan worked well until the then city attorney moved on. The council appointed Miesfeld as interim city attorney, a position solidified by permanent appointment in 2008.

Miesfeld's reasons for not running were multiple, and well reasoned. He said, "I'm an attorney, not a politician. Politicians have to ask people and organizations for campaign money. That's not me. I couldn't do it."

He also said it is standard practice during a campaign to talk about one's opponent in a not-very-nice way. "That's not me," he said. "I couldn't do that either."

Politicians also have to talk favorably about themselves. And, they often become indebted to people and organizations in order to benefit their political careers. Predictably, Miesfeld said that wasn't him.

The last reason for bypassing a campaign was that Bart's wife, Corrine, a deputy district attorney, was being considered by the governor and judicial panel for a judgeship. He didn't want to cause a conflict for her in any way. (She was appointed a Superior Court Commissioner, which is often a stepping stone to an eventual judicial appointment or election.)

What future plans does he have? Miesfeld plans to stay on to assist in the transition period with the new city attorney. If he feels comfortable he may settle back into the role of a deputy city attorney putting on trials. He said he has had many offers and opportunities, but will weigh them as the time comes.

The biggest problem facing the city attorney's office is the same as every other department: The Budget. It is difficult to run a law firm on limited funds, and it's getting harder.

I am waiting to see how the new city attorney, Glen Googins, handles his re-entry into the Chula Vista arena. He left with a little acrimony and a lot of cash in the form of severance pay. (I remember when I left the city after 17 years. They said, "See ya. Don't forget to turn in your equipment.")

Miesfeld said the best part of being city attorney was being able to interact with the other attorneys and clerical staff, great people all. He stressed that Chula Vista is very fortunate to have excellent department heads in all fields.

No matter what, this columnist wishes Bart Miesfeld the best.

Basinski is a retired police officer who has interacted with several city attorneys over the years.

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