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Court orders title change for California attorney general candidate

Republican John Eastman wanted 'assistant attorney general' as his ballot description. A judge says no; Eastman will be labeled a 'constitutional law attorney.'

April 02, 2010|By Shane Goldmacher

Reporting from Sacramento — Republican attorney general candidate John Eastman must change the way he identifies himself to voters on the June 8 primary election ballot, a judge ruled Thursday.

Eastman wanted his job described as "assistant attorney general," a title given to him for work on a single case in South Dakota. The judge said the title could mislead voters and also ruled against Eastman's second choice: "taxpayer advocate/attorney."

Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Timothy Frawley ordered Eastman, who recently resigned as dean of Chapman University School of Law in Orange County, to be identified instead as a "constitutional law attorney."

Eastman had argued that he is being paid $20,000 by the South Dakota attorney general for his work and that it is his "primary professional occupation," according to documents his campaign filed with the state.

California Secretary of State Debra Bowen, the initial arbiter of ballot titles, ruled last week that the assistant attorney general designation was potentially misleading. Eastman took her to court.

The profession a candidate lists on the ballot is significant as the last piece of information -- in some cases, the only piece -- that a citizen sees before casting a vote.

One of Eastman's opponents in the Republican race, Los Angeles Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley, had joined the case against the South Dakota job title.

Cooley spokesman Kevin Spillane cheered the decision Thursday, saying that Eastman had been trying to use a "blatantly false and misleading ballot designation in an effort to fool the voters."

"That's the exact opposite of what the state needs in an attorney general," Spillane said.

Calling the court-ordered designation "a strong one," Jeff Flint, strategist for the Eastman campaign, said in a statement: "Now the . . . real issues of who is best suited to this important office can begin."

Eastman's other rival, meanwhile, had his ballot title changed by a judge Thursday as well.

GOP state Sen. Tom Harman of Huntington Beach had asked to be identified as "prosecutor/attorney/senator." Bowen approved the designation, but Cooley's campaign sued over the term "prosecutor."

Harman has been volunteering since February for an Orange County program in which lawyers are sworn as deputy district attorneys to work, unpaid, on trials. Harman supporter Tony Rackauckas, the county district attorney, swore Harman into the program, according to documents the Harman campaign filed with the state.

But Harman had never actually tried a case, according to documents presented in court Thursday by the district attorney's office.

Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Allen H. Sumner ordered Harman to strip "prosecutor" from his job description.

shane.goldmacher@latimes.com

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