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Judge to Rule Within Days on Election

He could cancel Tuesday's vote to fill a seat on Orange County's Board of Supervisors. At issue is the legality of a voter-approved charter.

January 25, 2003|Jean O. Pasco and Mike Anton | Times Staff Writers

An Orange County judge on Friday raised doubts about the validity of a county charter approved by voters last year, saying he will rule this weekend on whether a supervisorial election made possible by the charter should be canceled.

The special election to fill the 3rd District seat on the Board of Supervisors is scheduled for Tuesday, and candidates continued to campaign despite the uncertainly over whether the vote would actually take place.

At issue in the court case is Measure V, the ballot initiative approved by voters last March. The measure states that vacancies on the Board of Supervisors will be filled by special election, not by governor's appointment. Critics have filed suit, saying Measure V is unconstitutional and that the election is a blatant attempt by Republicans to prevent Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat, from filing the seat.

Measure V created a county charter dealing solely with the issue of supervisorial vacancies.

But Superior Court Judge Andrew P. Banks questioned whether the measure had the effect of voiding a variety of laws approved by the Board of Supervisors. If so, it would amount to an unforeseen consequence of Measure V that voters were not aware of when they approved it.

Banks has also questioned whether the new charter nullifies term limits for supervisors. Attorneys on both sides addressed that issue Friday.

County attorneys defending the charter said Measure V incorporated past voter-approved laws, including term limits. But Dean Zipser, an attorney for plaintiffs, said courts have ruled that counties with charters cannot impose term limits.

Zipser and his colleague, former Assemblyman Tom Umberg, want Banks to invalidate the measure and call off the election. If that happens, the county's attorneys want Banks to freeze his ruling so they'd have time to appeal before Tuesday.

Anticipating a ruling this weekend, county officials asked the state's 4th District Court of Appeal to be available over the weekend if, as expected, Banks issues a ruling. Both sides have vowed to appeal.

Phil Greer, an attorney for one of five candidates in Tuesday's election, asked the judge to allow the election even if he finds the measure unconstitutional, because the ruling won't be the last word.

Greer argued, on behalf of former Assemblyman Bill Campbell, that Banks' ruling won't be the final say and that the District 3 seat should have a representative, even one who might be temporary.

Some 18,000 voters have already cast absentee ballots in the race, he said.

The charter was written primarily by former Supervisor Todd Spitzer, anticipating a run for state Assembly last year. Spitzer was the only Republican in the race and handily won the seat, leaving two years into a four-year term.

The legal challenge was originally filed by a leader of the county firefighters union; state Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer also got involved, deciding that the issue should be decided in court.

Measure V won broad support from the local Republican Party because, without a charter, Gov. Davis, a Democrat, would appoint Spitzer's replacement.

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