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Pasadena Told to Implement Law OKd by Voters

Courts: The campaign reform initiative was approved more than a year ago. Judge still could consider its constitutionality.

June 04, 2002|LIZ F. KAY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Superior Court judge has ordered Pasadena to sign into law a controversial campaign reform initiative approved by voters more than a year ago.

The judge left the door open to review the measure's constitutionality at a later date, however.

At issue was a lawsuit filed in March by Pasadena resident Rene Amy, who realized that the city clerk had not filed the paperwork to amend Pasadena's charter to include Measure B, which passed in March 2001.

Pasadena officials said they held off certifying the law in anticipation of a ruling on the merits of the measure. But Friday, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge J. Michael Byrne ordered the city to get the measure on the books.

The measure restricts the gifts, jobs or campaign donations city officials may receive from anyone to whom they awarded a "public benefit" within five years of a vote or one year of leaving office. Its goal is to prevent quid pro quo votes and donations. In Pasadena, the measure defines public benefits in various ways, but one example would be a contract worth more than $25,000.

The Santa Monica-based Oaks Project, the voter organizing arm of the Foundation for Taxpayers' Rights, wrote the initiative and sponsored the drive to get comparable measures on the ballot in four cities, including Santa Monica, San Francisco and Claremont. So far, only San Francisco has developed regulations based on it. Officials in the other cities said the measure is overly restrictive and would require tremendous resources to enforce. Oaks Project officials deny those claims.

The Pasadena case is one of a series of attempts to get judicial review of the initiative.

Most recently, in June 2001, Santa Monica tried to get a ruling on the measure's constitutionality by suing its own city clerk, a legal tactic to force the issue. A judge dismissed the case in April on procedural grounds.

A month later, Amy asked another court to order Pasadena to fulfill its duty and sign the measure into law. The Oaks Project filed a motion in support of Amy. Pasadena then filed a suit of its own, asking the court to review the initiative's merits and hold Amy liable for the city's legal expenses.

Amy and his lawyer, Kevin Snider, branded the city's complaint an intimidation tactic, a device called a SLAPP suit--for "strategic lawsuit against public participation"--and a violation of a state law against lawsuits that threaten free speech. When they threatened to countersue, Pasadena dropped its case against Amy and sued the Oaks Project.

On Friday, Byrne partially sided with Pasadena, rejecting the Oak Project's request that he dismiss the city's suit against it. The result: Byrne may now rule on the constitutionality of the measure.

"Hopefully now, even though we still have to file it, we'll have some direction," said Michelle Beal Bagnerisv, Pasadena's city attorney.

As for the Oaks Project's allegations that Pasadena had filed a SLAPP suit, the group intends to appeal the judge's ruling and pursue the matter, said Fredric Woocher, the group's attorney.

"The claims arose out of the foundation's exercise of its 1st Amendment rights," he said.

The Oaks Project is not trying to shield the law from review, said Oaks Project Director Carmen Balber.

"We don't want to see it in court any longer than we have to," she said. Any challenge to the law, however, would be legitimate only if brought by someone "either on City Council or in the community who feels their rights have been violated," she said.

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