Los Angeles County was ordered Wednesday to mail arguments against Santa Clarita cityhood to all registered voters within the proposed city boundaries.
The order, by a Superior Court judge, came after an amusing twist of legal cooperation between the county attorney and Anthony J. Skirlick Jr., a Valencia resident whose lawsuit against the county was at the root of Wednesday's action.
Philip H. Hickok, principal deputy county counsel, helped a frustrated Skirlick draft the paper work needed to gain access to the judge.
The court order directs the county to distribute a supplement to the sample ballot 48,000 registered voters in Santa Clarita began receiving this week for the Nov. 3 election. The ballot includes a statement in favor of cityhood but does not contain an argument against.
Skirlick contended that neither he nor any other cityhood opponents had time to file arguments with the county registrar-recorder. The Board of Supervisors set the date of the election Aug. 6, just five days before a state deadline for sample ballot arguments. Supporters of cityhood met the deadline and had their position included.
"You're fortunate, Mr. Skirlick," said Judge Eli Chernow. "What you're asking for is so doable and the cost is relatively small . . . and the benefit is substantial." The supplement will cost the county $22,000 to print and mail.
Chernow, however, said he was concerned that Skirlick, who never retained an attorney, had waited so long to protest. Skirlick filed his lawsuit Sept. 17. He did not ask the court to act until Wednesday.
"There is a real question, Mr. Skirlick, why you're so late in getting to court," Chernow said.
The supplement will contain the position of Skirlick's group, Citizens Against Cityhood, which has a membership of about 20 persons. The group's argument cannot exceed 300 words. The City of Santa Clarita Formation Committee, the prime cityhood booster, will be allowed to submit a 250-word rebuttal.
County attorney Hickok said the new material will be mailed by Oct. 19 and will include notification that it is being distributed under a court order.
Hickok did not argue against Skirlick's request, but he did remind the judge that the county did not break any laws in printing its ballot guide. Hickok had taken his cue from the Board of Supervisors which instructed him Tuesday not to block Skirlick's effort.
Supervisor Pete Schabarum, a vocal opponent of cityhood, had said he thought Skirlick should be given a second chance.
Charles S. Vose, an attorney representing cityhood proponents, argued that honoring Skirlick's request would appear to "taint the election process."
"We're concerned the process, by coming in at the last minute, will give some credibility to this argument against cityhood," Vose said.
Cityhood backers said afterward that they were frustrated that an opponent could sidestep state election laws. They also said they felt sure the county eventually would bill the new city for the $22,000 cost of the mailing.
After his victory, Skirlick, an air traffic controller in Palmdale, had little to say as he dashed out of the courtroom on his way to work. "I think it will serve the interest of the community to have both sides aired," he said.
Skirlick almost never got his day in court. He arrived Wednesday afternoon without any of the proper court papers. Bill Ducoulombier, the court clerk, would not approach the judge in his chambers until Skirlick presented papers that at least vaguely resembled a court document.
Looking flustered, Skirlick explained that Hickok and the Board of Supervisors were willing to overlook legal imperfections of his documents.
"That's nice for them, but that doesn't satisfy us. We need proper pa-per-work, " said Ducoulombier, enunciating each syllable.
At one point, Skirlick packed up his briefcase and announced he was ready to give up for the day. All the other attorneys followed suit, but then Skirlick changed his mind when the clerk relented and told him he could write out his request freehand on a piece of yellow legal paper.
Hickok, representing the county, helped Skirlick draft a document that satisfied the clerk.