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Will the Santa Ana Term Limits Lawsuit Be Dismissed by the Court?

Posted by Chris Nguyen on July 11, 2012

 You may have read the post by Emami yesterday or the Voice of OC article from Monday about the lawsuit filed by Santa Ana Parks and Recreation Commissioner Max Madrid, a staffer for State Senator Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana), to try to get Councilwoman Claudia Alvarez (D-Santa Ana) ruled eligible for another term despite her serving the maximum number of terms permissible under Santa Ana Charter Section 401 on the basis that when the term limit was changed from two terms to three terms was changed by Measure D in 2008 that the clock restarted for Alvarez since the measure didn’t say that terms prior to 2008 counted under Section 401.  Madrid is represented by Rancho Santa Margarita City Councilman Steve Baric, who is also Vice Chairman of the California Republican Party.

This morning, Chris Prevatt at The Liberal OC noted:

First, Madrid is not the party harmed by the determination by two legal opinions sought by the Council which are the foundation of Huizar’s statement in April that Alvarez is ineligible to serve past the end of her current third term. The only party harmed if Alvarez is denied access to nomination papers is Alvarez, not a third party like Madrid.

Looking at a copy of the suit, I suspect Prevatt is right, and the judge may dismiss the suit because Madrid indeed has insufficient standing to bring the suit.  As justification of Madrid’s standing, the suit states:

Petitioner and Plaintiff MAX MADRID (“Petitioner”) is, and at all relevant times hereto was, a resident voter and taxpayer of the City of SANTA ANA, (“City”), California.  Petitioner is currently registered to vote in the City and has paid property and/or sales taxes to the City within the past twelve months.  Plaintiff, as a municipal taxpayer seeking to avoid the waste of municipal assets, falls into the category of a type of claimant long recognized to possess a sufficiently intense interest in his claim to establish his “standing” to enter the courtroom.  Because a successful attack on wrongful municipal spending or disposition of assets in all likelihood may reduce the municipal taxpayer’s burden of meeting the expenses of government, courts do not doubt that a municipal taxpayer will effectively present his claim.  “[T]axpayers have a sufficiently personal interest in the illegal expenditure of funds by [municipal] officials to become dedicated adversaries.” (Harman v. City and County of San Francisco (1972) 7 Cal.3d 150.) In this capacity, Petitioner has standing to bring this action pursuant Code of Civil Procedure section 526(a) and case law.  Additionally, as a registered voter he has standing to challenge any implementation or application of the City Charter and ordinances.

I don’t see how preventing the City from stopping a Councilmember from running for another term prevents “the illegal expenditure of funds” by the City or “wrongful municipal spending” by Santa Ana.   The suit offers no justification for why registered voters have “standing to challenge any implementation or application of the City Charter and ordinances,” particularly since this one merely deals with the eligibility of a candidate.

California Code of Civil Procedure Section 526(a) states:

526. (a) An injunction may be granted in the following cases:
(1) When it appears by the complaint that the plaintiff is entitled to the relief demanded, and the relief, or any part hereof, consists in restraining the commission or continuance of the act complained of, either for a limited period or perpetually.
(2) When it appears by the complaint or affidavits that the commission or continuance of some act during the litigation would produce waste, or great or irreparable injury, to a party to the action.
(3) When it appears, during the litigation, that a party to the action is doing, or threatens, or is about to do, or is procuring or suffering to be done, some act in violation of the rights of another party to the action respecting the subject of the action, and tending to render the judgment ineffectual.
(4) When pecuniary compensation would not afford adequate relief.
(5) Where it would be extremely difficult to ascertain the amount of compensation which would afford adequate relief.
(6) Where the restraint is necessary to prevent a multiplicity of judicial proceedings.
(7) Where the obligation arises from a trust.

I don’t see Alvarez’s inability to run for Council as harming Madrid in any of the seven ways above.

Now, if the City Clerk did allow Alvarez to run, then a person could bring suit to stop her on the argument that they could suffer harm by having an ineligible person on the ballot, as that could a) harm their own run for Council or b) be the illegal expenditure of funds cited in Madrid’s suit.

Relief can only be granted to Alvarez.  The only person who can be harmed by preventing Alvarez from running is Alvarez.  Madrid doesn’t have standing to bring the suit, and consequently, I suspect the Court will dismiss the case because of Madrid’s insufficient standing.  If Alvarez wants to be ruled eligible to run for a fourth term, she is going to have to file suit herself, as only she has suffered enough harm to gain sufficient standing in court.

6 Responses to “Will the Santa Ana Term Limits Lawsuit Be Dismissed by the Court?”

  1. Greg Larkin said

    “You may have read the post by Emami yesterday or the Voice of OC article from Monday about the lawsuit filed by Santa Ana Parks and Recreation Commissioner Max Madrid, a staffer for State Senator Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana), to try to get Councilwoman Claudia Alvarez (D-Santa Ana) ruled eligible for another term despite her serving the maximum number of terms permissible under Santa Ana Charter Section 401 on the basis that when the term limit was changed from two terms to three terms was changed by Measure D in 2008 that the clock restarted for Alvarez since the measure didn’t say that terms prior to 2008 counted under Section 401.”

    That’s one sentence. Please, we know this is a blog, but use some journalistic standards.

  2. The lawsuit is baseless on a variety of grounds, not the least of which is the fact that, unlike the legislature, it is impossible to discern the will of the voters other than the outcome of the election itself. In this case, it is clear.

    This is just another lame attempt to circumvent the people’s will. Shame on Max for even bringing this. But to add insult to injury, to expect the city to pay his legal bills? Really???

  3. Greg Diamond said

    This is a much closer call than either Chris or Jeff suggest, even though I’ve written elsewhere that I think that Madrid loses due to unreasonable delay in filing.

    (You all realize that the Greg who wrote in about “long-sentences” above is not me, right? I’m fine with rococo grammar if it actually works.)

    Standing: Chris, if we presume that Claudia wants to run for re-election and is in cahoots with her supporter Madrid, do you honestly think that a competent council would fail to list her as a plaintiff in the suit and risk losing everything? We’re all blaming Claudia for it anyway; what’s the point of keeping her off of the suit if that choice kills it? The “illegal expenditure” asserted would be printing a ballot that illegally excludes a qualified candidate.

    At any rate, the assertion that only the candidate would have standing here is wrong for reasons explained in the complaint. Humility should caution one against asserting that “relief can only be granted to Alvarez” unless one knows the case law — and with all due respect I don’t think that you do.

    Voter intent: no, Jeff, it is not impossible to discern the will of the voters. For one thing, one could look at the statements in the voter guide for and against a measure. That’s not definitive, but it’s useful to the court.

    I had not understood that Steve Baric was Vice-Chairman of the CRP. Now that’s a story that you guys are well-equipped to follow. What’s the CRP’s interest in getting Alvarez on the ballot — increasing turnout in the Ninth Ward? (Personally, I’d prefer that she run against Pulido and allow us Dems to recoup some of the probable Santa Ana turnout that we lost when Moreno edged Perez to make the runoff against Daly.)

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