Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Election Law
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The San Diego County (County) Board of Supervisors approved an amendment to the County's general land use plan, which would have allowed for the development of over 2,100 homes in a previously designated rural area of the County. Residents opposed to the change in land use circulated a referendum petition and gathered enough signatures to have the matter placed on an election ballot. To prevent an election, the land developer filed a petition for writ of mandate, contending the referendum petition was illegal and void as a matter of law. The court denied the writ petition. The issues this case presented for the Court of Appeal's review were: (1) whether the referendum petition complied with the full text requirement under Elections Code section 91471; and (2) the referendum petition's legality in challenging a single legislative act even though the Board of Supervisors executed several concurrent, associated legislative acts. Finding no reversible error in the trial court's judgment, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "Molloy v. Vu" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs claimed that the California Secretary of State misinterpreted and failed to properly enforce, Elections Code section 14201, which requires the posting and availability of facsimile ballot materials printed in languages other than English at certain polling places. The court of appeal concluded the Secretary properly assessed the need for language assistance on a precinct, rather than county-wide, basis. The Secretary acted within his discretion in looking to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (52 U.S.C. 10101) to inform his interpretation of “single language minority,” terminology used in both section 14201 and the Voting Rights Act. However, in tying his language assistance determinations to the list of jurisdictions determined by the Director of the Census and Attorney General to be subject to the requirements of the Voting Rights Act, the Secretary erroneously imported into state law the federal Act’s higher percentage threshold of voting-age citizens who are members of a single language minority group (five percent, rather than three percent as specified by state law). View "Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles v. Padilla" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal addressed an issue of first impression involving declarations containing false information collected by defendant Dolores Lucero, to be used in court to support of her request for injunctive relief to halt a petition drive to recall her from her position as a city council member for the City of Shasta Lake (Shasta Lake). Defendant submitted the declarations to law enforcement, and an investigation against a person involved in the recall effort was initiated as a result. Defendant duped several people who had signed the recall petition into signing these declarations. A jury convicted defendant of violating Penal Code section 134. She was thereafter placed on probation for three years with various terms and conditions including that she serve 30 days in jail. Two years into her probation, defendant petitioned for early termination of probation and the court granted it. On appeal, defendant contended: (1) section 134 was inapplicable to the circumstances of this case and that Penal Code section 118 (perjury) was a more specific statute that covered her conduct; (2) there was insufficient evidence to support the conviction; (3) the trial court committed prejudicial instructional error related to the instructions on the charged offense; (4) the testimony of one of the declarants, Charles Lukens, was coerced and that the trial court erred in excluding evidence offered to show that Lukens had a motive to conform his testimony to the prosecution’s theory of the case; and (5) certain probation conditions must be struck because they are unreasonable. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's judgment. View "California v. Lucero" on Justia Law

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In 2016 the California Legislature passed, and the Governor signed Senate Bill No. 1107, amending Government Code section 85300, a part of the Political Reform Act of 1974. Section 85300 was added by Proposition 73, an initiative measure in 1988 prohibiting public funding of political campaigns. Senate Bill No. 1107 reversed this ban and permitted public funding of political campaigns under certain circumstances. Plaintiffs Howard Jarvis Taxpayer Association and Quentin Kopp challenged Senate Bill No. 1107 as an improper legislative amendment of a voter initiative. Defendants Governor Gavin Newsom and the Fair Political Practices Commission (the Commission) appealed a judgment that invalidated Senate Bill No. 1107 and enjoined its implementation, contending the trial court misconstrued the purposes of Act and erred in finding the ban on public financing of political campaigns was a primary purpose of the Act. The Court of Appeal found that Senate Bill No. 1107 directly conflicted with a primary purpose and mandate of the Act, as amended by subsequent voter initiatives, to prohibit public funding of political campaigns. Accordingly, the legislation did not further the purposes of the Act, a requirement for legislative amendment of the Act. View "Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn. v. Newsom" on Justia Law

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In 2017, David Gates and Gage Bruce submitted to the San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters notices of intent to circulate for signatures with respect to nine initiatives. The initiatives were referred to county counsel for preparation of ballot titles and summaries. County counsel prepared ballot titles and summaries for two of the initiatives, and a third initiative was withdrawn. Litigation ensued with respect to the remaining six initiatives, which the parties have referred to as Initiatives 1, 2, 5, 6, 7, and 8. Pursuant to a stipulation, the trial court addressed the parties’ arguments regarding all six proposed initiatives in a single hearing on January 18, 2018. The trial court sided with county counsel, denying Gates and Bruce’s writ petition and granting county counsel declaratory relief. The judgment, entered on February 1, 2018, excuses county counsel from her duty pursuant to section 9105, subdivision (a), to prepare a ballot title and summary for the initiatives on the ground that each is “invalid and may not be placed on the ballot.” Gates and Bruce contended the trial court should not have engaged in any preelection review of the proposed initiatives, and also that, even if review were proper, the initiatives were not invalid. The Court of Appeal disagreed with both contentions and affirmed the judgment. View "Gates v. Blakemore" on Justia Law

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Citizens submitted a referendum petition to challenge Amador Water Agency’s Board Resolution No. 2015-19, adopting new water service rates for Agency customers. The Clerk of the Agency rejected the referendum petition and refused to place it on an election ballot, on the grounds that: (1) the petition was “confusing;” and (2) the rate change, while subject to challenge by initiative, was not subject to referendum. Appellants Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, Charlotte Asher, and Laura Boggs appealed the trial court’s denial of their petition for a peremptory writ of mandate against Amador Water Agency, its Clerk, and its Board of Directors (collectively “the Agency”). Appellants argued: (1) the Clerk exceeded her ministerial duties by declaring the petition confusing; and (2) referendum was an appropriate avenue to challenge the new water rates. After review, the Court of Appeal determined: (1) the Clerk exceeded the scope of her ministerial duty and should have certified the referendum petition as adequate; and (2) the Resolution was not subject to referendum. The Court reached a different conclusion in a different case currently under California Supreme Court review. Because the Court concluded the Resolution was not subject to referendum, it affirmed the judgment denying the writ petition. View "Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn. v. Amador Water Agency" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs-appellants Citizens Oversight, Inc., a Delaware non-profit corporation, and Raymond Lutz (collectively, "Citizens") filed an action against defendants-respondents Michael Vu, the San Diego Registrar of Voters, and the County of San Diego (County) (collectively the "Registrar") seeking a declaration that Citizens could inspect and copy ballots cast by registered voters during the June 7, 2016, California Presidential Primary Election (2016 Election) and a mandate requiring the Registrar to produce those ballots for inspection and copying. The trial court ruled that the ballots were exempt from disclosure under the California Public Records Act (CPRA) because Elections Code section 153701 prohibited disclosure. It granted the Registrar's demurrer to the complaint without leave to amend and issued a judgment of dismissal. Appellants requested review, and the Court of Appeal affirmed. The Court found that the Registrar was authorized to destroy or recycle ballots 22 months after each federal election; the Court exercised its discretion to resolve the issue this case presented even though the ballots from the 2016 Election no longer existed. The Court concluded that the California Legislature exempted ballots from disclosure under the CPRA by specific, clear language in Election Code sections 15370 and 17301. "We must follow the plain meaning a statute when, as here, the language is clear." View "Citizens Oversight v. Vu" on Justia Law

Posted in: Election Law
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The Court of Appeal denied a petition for writ of mandate seeking to compel defendants to put plaintiff on the primary election ballot for county sheriff. The court affirmed the trial court's ruling that Government Code section 24004.3, which required persons to be elected county sheriff to meet certain law enforcement experience and education, is constitutional. The court explained that there was good reason why the Legislature imposed an experience requirement because, in order to have a true understanding of law enforcement, you must learn about it in the field doing it. The court held that the state Constitution empowers the Legislature to provide for the election of county sheriffs and to set minimum qualifications for sheriff candidates. The court rejected the argument that section 24004.3 conflicts with or was preempted by the California Constitution. The court also held that there was no merit to the argument that the Legislature exceeded its authority pursuant to the California Constitution in enacting section 24004.3 or that the statute violates the First Amendment rights of would-be candidates or the voters at large. Finally, the trial court reasonably concluded that plaintiff's delay in filing and prosecuting the writ petition was prejudicial. View "Boyer v. Ventura County" on Justia Law

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The board of directors of the Julian-Cuyamaca Fire Protection District (District) passed a resolution to apply to the San Diego Local Agency Formation Commission (Commission) to dissolve the District. A group of Julian residents (plaintiffs) sought to prevent the District's dissolution by presenting a referendum petition to the District board. The District did not act on the referendum petition, and the trial court denied plaintiffs' petition for writ of mandate to set an election on the District's resolution. The issue this case presented for the Court of Appeal was whether the District's resolution to apply to the Commission for a dissolution could be challenged through the voter referendum process. The Court concluded the District's resolution was not subject to referendum because, among other reasons, the Reorganization Act prescribed the exclusive method for dissolving, and/or protesting the proposed dissolution of, a fire protection district and the resolution was administrative in nature under the Reorganization Act. Accordingly, the trial court did not err, and the judgment was affirmed. View "Southcott v. Julian-Cuyamaca Fire Protection Dist." on Justia Law

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During the course of the 2016 political campaign to represent the 49th Congressional District, challenger candidate Doug Applegate's campaign ran two television advertisements about incumbent Darrell Issa that Issa contends were false and defamatory. Issa filed a lawsuit against Applegate, Doug Applegate for Congress, Inc., and Robert Dempsey (the respondents), alleging libel based on statements made in these two television advertisements. The trial court granted the respondents' anti-SLAPP motion and entered judgment in favor of the respondents on Issa's complaint. Issa appealed. While "[i]t is abhorrent that many political campaigns are mean- spirited affairs that shower the voters with invective instead of insight[,]" in order "to ensure the preservation of a citizen's right of free expression, we must allow wide latitude." The Court of Appeal ultimately concluded the trial court properly granted the respondents' anti-SLAPP motion because Issa could not demonstrate the statements about which he complained were demonstrably false statements of fact. View "Issa v. Applegate" on Justia Law