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Nguyen might have to wait

Judge asks the O.C. supervisors to delay seating a winner until suit over recount dispute is heard. At least two might honor his request.

March 06, 2007|Mike Anton | Times Staff Writer

At least two of the four Orange County supervisors will vote to again delay swearing in a new board member today after a judge Monday requested more time to hold a trial on a contested recount.

Last week, supervisors voted to wait until today to swear in the winner of the Feb. 6 election to fill the board's 1st District seat -- enough time, they reasoned, for a court to sort out the recount in which Janet Nguyen bested initial top vote-getter Trung Nguyen by seven votes.

On Monday, Orange County Superior Court Judge Michael Brenner set March 21 as the trial date for Trung Nguyen's lawsuit seeking to invalidate the recount. Nguyen says some ballots were improperly disallowed and that the recount wasn't complete because the paper audit of election day electronic votes wasn't counted by hand.

Brenner stopped short of ordering supervisors to postpone swearing in a winner but did ask the board to hold off until he rules. A trial is expected to last up to three days.

Supervisors Bill Campbell and John Moorlach said they would vote for another delay.

"But once he rules -- wherever he lands -- I go. If [the losing side] wants to take it to an appeals court, fine. But we've got to move on here," Moorlach said

Supervisor Patricia Bates said she hadn't made up her mind, and board Chairman Chris Norby couldn't be reached after Brenner made his request.

With another delay, the uncertainty over who won the election will have been extended to nearly seven weeks. The 1st District seat, which represents much of central Orange County, has been vacant since Lou Correa resigned shortly after being elected to the state Senate in November.

The Nguyens, unrelated Republicans with little political experience, shocked analysts by topping a field of 10 candidates, including two backed by the local Democratic and Republican parties.

Mike Schroeder, an attorney for Trung Nguyen, said the board sought the court's direction when it delayed seating a winner last week and that's what Brenner issued Monday -- although it wasn't his final word on the matter. "He was very unequivocal" in his request for another delay, Schroeder said.

Added Phillip Greer, Janet Nguyen's attorney: "The court made a statement. If [the supervisors] choose to listen to the court, then so be it."

Fred Smoller, a political science professor at Chapman University, said it would be easy for supervisors to again delay a decision. "This is not a difficult thing to explain to their constituents," Smoller said. "They're in a position to punt this issue and wait for the court to decide."

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