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Stem Cell Lawsuits Survive Challenge

Judge declines to throw out the efforts that seek to nullify the initiative creating a state agency.

November 30, 2005|Megan Garvey | Times Staff Writer

A Superior Court judge Tuesday declined to throw out two lawsuits that have stalled the state's $3-billion stem cell agency, but at the same time ruled that the parties challenging the voter-approved initiative had so far failed to prove it unconstitutional.

"The Supreme Court has stated that it is the court's solemn duty to uphold an initiative, resolving all doubts in its favor, unless its unconstitutionality" is unmistakably clear, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Bonnie Lewman Sabraw wrote in a 24-page decision on pretrial motions in the cases.

Sabraw said the plaintiffs -- People's Advocate, the National Tax Limitation Foundation and the California Family Bioethics Council -- had "not satisfied" that "substantial test."

But she also denied the defendants' request that the lawsuits be dismissed, ruling that the claims could not be resolved "on the face of the pleadings or through consideration of judicially noticed matters" and therefore must proceed.

The legal challenges have blocked the state's sale of $3 billion in bonds earmarked for embryonic stem cell research.

Proposition 71, which established the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, passed with 61% of the vote a year ago.

Many scientists think embryonic stem cells may lead to cures for such diseases as insulin-dependent diabetes and Parkinson's disease. But opponents of the research say it is unethical because creation of new stem cell lines requires the destruction of human embryos.

Bob Klein, chairman of the stem cell agency's advisory board and author of the initiative, said Tuesday's ruling would ease efforts to get bridge financing for the agency.

"This is a major step forward because it establishes a high hurdle for the plaintiffs to meet," said Klein, who hopes to have between $14 million and $50 million of interim financing in place by early next year.

"Our intent [is] to march through that period and fund our research to show that you cannot stop democratically mandated programs by just tying them up in court," he said.

"I'm going to go forward" with the suit, said Ted Costa of People's Advocate, whose group had argued that the initiative illegally allowed state money to be controlled by a group that was not under the direct management of state elected officials. Costa said the initiative provided inadequate oversight and should be opposed in court.

"The fact of the matter is there is still $3 billion, $6 billion [including interest], really, that they want to spend. Who is going to make sure what they say they are going to do is what they do?"

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