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Accused Judge Can Pull Name Off Ballot

The Region

June 21, 2002|JACK LEONARD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ending one of Orange County's strangest election dramas, a Superior Court judge who had sought a second term while facing child pornography and molestation charges won permission Thursday to drop out of the upcoming election.

Judge Ronald C. Kline had asked to remove his name from the ballot after failing to win a majority of votes in the March primary election, forcing him into a November runoff with one of the many write-in candidates who campaigned against him.

His withdrawal was opposed by county election officials and his top-vote-getting write-in opponent, who argued that it was too late.

But Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge David P. Yaffe on Thursday ruled that Kline's request was timely and ordered the Orange County registrar of voters to remove Kline from the ballot.

"The judge made the right call.... The election controversy is now over," Kline's attorney, Paul S. Meyer, said in a written statement after the ruling. "We will focus our full attention on the legal defense of charges."

Kline, who remains under house arrest pending the outcome of his criminal cases, had argued that remaining on the ballot could undermine his chances of receiving a fair trail.

The 61-year-old jurist faces federal charges of possessing pornographic images of children on his home and courthouse computers and state charges of molesting a 14-year-old boy a quarter-century ago. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Kline's attempt to remove his name from the ballot was given little chance by most legal experts. Election law makes it difficult for candidates to drop out, and judges have rarely ruled on the issue.

Lawyers for the county registrar of voters argued that Kline could not withdraw once voters cast their ballots in the March 5 primary. But Yaffe ruled that Kline became a qualified candidate in the upcoming run-off only when the Board of Supervisors certified the primary's results on March 25. By that stage, Kline had already asked to withdraw.

County attorneys, as well as Dana Point attorney John Adams, the write-in candidate who opposed Kline's attempt to withdraw, all said they have no plans to appeal the ruling.

"I'm happy that it's over," said Adams, who was the top vote-getter in the primary election. "It's been a distraction. Now we can move on to the fall election."

While Thursday's ruling ended Kline's candidacy, it remains undecided whose name might appear with Adams' on the November ballot.

The county plans to list only Adams' name. But attorney Gay Sandoval, the runner-up among write-in candidates in the primary, said she hopes county officials will add her name now that Kline's has been removed. If they refuse, she said, she will probably ask the courts to intervene.

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