County assessor candidate Jeffrey Prang may not call himself "deputy… (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times )
A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge Friday ruled that a front-runner in the race for county assessor can't call himself a "deputy assessor" on the ballot.
Candidate Omar Haroon, an appraiser in the assessor's office, had filed a court case contending that the occupation listed by rival candidate Jeffrey Prang, a West Hollywood councilman who also works as a public affairs manager for the county agency, was misleading.
The assessor's office does not use "deputy assessor" as an official job title. But Haroon argued that it traditionally has been reserved for employees authorized to act on behalf of the assessor as appraisers. Prang is not licensed as an appraiser. If elected assessor, he would have a year to obtain a license.
Prang argued that the term "deputy" is commonly used to refer to high-level employees of elected officials — such as a field deputy or press deputy — and accurately represents his work.
Judge James C. Chalfant initially sided with Prang in a tentative ruling but changed his mind after a hearing Friday. Several other candidates running for the office appeared at the hearing to support Haroon's position.
"There's no such thing as a deputy city councilperson," Chalfant said. "There's a deputy to a city councilperson.... A deputy to the assessor is not the same thing as a deputy assessor."
The judge said Prang should be listed by his official job title, "special assistant, assessor."
Haroon said he was pleased with the ruling. "I'm a real estate professional," he said. "Jeff is a professional politician."
Prang said he disagreed with the judge's decision but did not object to using his formal job title on the ballot. He criticized Haroon for costing the county money. County Registrar Dean Logan told the court his office would incur $37,625 in overtime costs for extra work required to make the ballot change.
"I wouldn't spend $40,000 of taxpayer money for political grandstanding," Prang said.
Twelve candidates are vying to replace current assessor John Noguez, who is on leave and fighting public corruption charges. Haroon accused Prang of picking the "deputy assessor" title to obscure his connection with Noguez, who hired Prang in March 2012. Prang denied that was his intent.