Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Election 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

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In 1996, California voters adopted Proposition 218 (as approved by voters Gen. Elec. Nov. 5, 1996, eff. Nov. 6, 1996 [as of Nov. 14, 2018], archived at ) (Proposition 218) to add article XIII C to the California Constitution by which they expressly reserved their right to challenge local taxes, assessments, fees, and charges by initiative. At issue in this case was whether section 3 of article XIII C to the California Constitution silently repealed voters’ right to challenge by referendum the same local levies for which they expressly preserved their power of initiative. The City of Dunsmuir (City) rejected a referendum measure submitted by one its residents, Leslie Wilde. The City rejected the referendum even though there was no dispute Wilde gathered sufficient voter signatures to qualify the referendum for the ballot to repeal Resolution 2016-02 that established a new water rate master plan. The City’s concluded its resolution establishing new water rates was not subject to referendum, but only voter initiative. Wilde petitioned for a writ of mandate in superior court to place the referendum on the ballot. At the same time, Wilde gathered sufficient voter signatures to place an initiative on the ballot to establish a different water rate plan. The trial court denied Wilde’s petition, and the City’s voters rejected Wilde’s initiative, Measure W. On appeal, Wilde contended the trial court erred in refusing to order the City to place her referendum on the ballot. The Court of Appeal concluded this appeal was not moot, and that the voters’ rejection of Wilde’s initiative water rate plan did not establish that the voters would necessarily have rejected Wilde’s referendum on the City’s water rate plan. On the merits, the Court concluded the voters’ adoption of Proposition 218 did not abridge voters’ right to challenge local resolutions and ordinances by referendum. The trial court erred in finding the City’s water rate plan was an administrative decision not subject to voter referendum. The resolution adopting an extensive water upgrade project funded by a new water rate plan was legislative in nature and therefore subject to voter referendum. View "Wilde v. City of Dunsmuir" on Justia Law

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In November 1992, San Diego voters approved an amendment to the city charter that established a term limit for members of the San Diego City Council. Bryan Pease was a city council candidate who did not qualify for the November 2018 general election. He contended Councilmember Lorie Zapf, who received the most votes in the primary election, was termed out of office and ineligible to run in the general election, and he should have been placed on the ballot instead. Councilmember Zapf represented District 6 during her first term of office and represented District 2 during her second term of office. As a result of redistricting that occurred during Councilmember Zapf's first term of office, she resided in District 2 for both terms. Based on her residency, Pease contended Councilmember Zapf already served two consecutive terms from the same district and was thus termed out of office. The Court of Appeal determined this interpretation was not supported by the language of the term limit provision and failed to take into account other relevant charter provisions, including the impact of the redistricting provision. “The term limit provision regulates the number of terms an incumbent may serve on behalf of the electors of a given district, and is not dependent solely on residency.” The Court held Councilmember Zapf was eligible for reelection in the November 2018 general election. View "Pease v. Zapf" on Justia Law

Posted in: Election Law

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Mendocino County Ballot Measure AI, which imposed a tax on commercial cannabis businesses, was approved by a simple majority of county voters. The trial court dismissed a challenge and denied plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction. The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting an argument that under a correct interpretation of article XIII of the California Constitution the tax imposed by Measure AI was not a general tax but, together with a related advisory measure, amounted to a special tax requiring approval by a supermajority of county voters. The court also rejected an alternative argument that Measure AI did not involve a tax at all, and instead imposed an unlawful fee. Because Measure AJ did not in any way limit the County’s ability to spend the proceeds collected under Measure AI, the tax necessarily and by its terms remained a general tax. View "Johnson v. County of Mendocino" on Justia Law

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Judge Persky was appointed to the superior court in 2003 and has been reelected. Dauber and others submitted a “Petition for Recall of Judge Aaron Persky” to the Registrar of Voters (Elections Code 11006, 11020-11022). Judge Persky responded that under the California Constitution, the Secretary of State was the proper official for the recall of state officers and that the petition contained an “incorrect and misleading” demand for an election to choose a successor because a vacancy would be filled by the Governor. An amended recall petition was submitted to the Registrar and approved for circulation. Judge Persky sought a temporary restraining order to compel the Registrar to withdraw its certification and refer the matter to the Secretary of State; to enjoin the petition’s circulation until the Secretary of State certified it; and to enjoin circulation while the petition contained the "misleading" statement. The court of appeal affirmed that the Registrar was the proper official to approve recall petitions for superior court judges and that the Persky recall petition was not misleading. The statutory process for recall of a “local officer” was expressly made applicable to recall of a superior court judge and is not contrary to the state constitution; it does not impermissibly distinguish between appellate courts and superior courts, including their classification as “state” or “local” officers. View "Perksy v. Bushey" on Justia Law

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Parcel 27 (22 acres) was proposed for development with 44 single-family homes, 7.9 acres of public parkland, a bike path, and dog park. The planning commission recommended and the city council adopted an amendment to Parcel 27's general plan designation from Administrative Professional Office (APO) to Low-Density Single Family Residential, R-20. After the amendment could no longer be challenged, the council changed Parcel 27's zoning designation from APO to R-20. Opponents filed a referendum challenging the rezoning. The city clerk notified them that the referendum met the requirements of the Elections Code. The city attorney prepared a staff report, indicating that once a referendum petition is certified, the ordinance is suspended and the city council must reconsider the ordinance, but advised that “a referendum seeking to repeal a zoning amendment which would result in a zoning ordinance that is inconsistent with a general plan is a legally invalid referendum.” The council voted to refuse to repeal the ordinance or to place the issue on the ballot because repeal would result in reversion to APO zoning and create an inconsistency between the zoning and the general plan. The court of appeal held that the referendum was not invalid and the issue must be placed on the ballot. View "Save Lafayette v. City of Lafayette" on Justia Law