Monday, March 18, 2002
South Gate City Council Recall Petitions Valid, Janavs Rules
By ROBERT GREENE, Staff Writer
South Gate residents and city officials pressing a recall drive against the city’s council majority won a court victory Friday as Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Dzintra Janavs granted their request to file their petitions this week with elections officials.
But Janavs’ ruling has a catch—in this turbulent and factionalized working class city in the southeast corner of Los Angeles County, there currently is no agreement as to just who is a bona fide “elections official.”
The targeted council majority took election duties away from the elected city clerk, whom they accuse of improperly assisting the recall drive. The members then hired their own elections “consultant,” who in turn has been criticized by Secretary of State Bill Jones for her close ties to City Treasurer Albert Robles—the person whom recall leaders claim is the real power behind the council majority.
After an all-day hearing, Janavs put over to tomorrow the question of the appropriate person to receive the recall petitions when they come due Thursday. She rejected pleas from lawyers for the recall targets to have the petitions filed with either the consultant, attorney Julia Sylva, or Carmen Avalos, the elected—but suspended—city clerk.
“I am not going to give [the petitions]at this point to someone who is a party to a lawsuit and who has not been shown to me to be properly appointed to take the place of Ms. Avalos,” Janavs said.
The question of who will actually handle the recall petitions is crucial, given the checkered history of elections and recalls in South Gate. An earlier set of recall petitions was delivered to the council several months ago when Avalos was still in good standing. But Avalos accused the city attorney of grabbing the petitions and leaving with them before they could be properly filed.
Jones has given the city until March 28 to reinstate Avalos or turn over its elections and recall process to the Los Angeles County registrar/recorder-clerk.
Steven Kaufman, attorney for the petitioners seeking the recall, told the dozen or so South Gate residents gathered in the hallway outside the courtroom after the hearing that their work had paid off.
“Congratulations, people, you got your recall,” Kaufman said.
Attorney Clifton Albright, representing the city, said he would file an appeal as soon as Janavs signs the writ this week.
“The best I could say is that the ruling is very surprising,” Albright said. “It is a clear aberration of what the Elections Code requires.”
The key issue before Janavs Friday was whether the recall petitions improperly had the proponents’ reasons for the recall in bold, while the responses of the targets were listed in standard type. Lawyers for the targets—South Gate Mayor Raul Moriel, Vice Mayor Xochilt Ruvalcaba and Councilwoman Maria Benavides—argued that elections laws mandate that all type be the same throughout the recall petition in order to present a balanced statement to voters.
But Janavs appeared unimpressed, saying the interpretation was a misreading of the statute and that the recall petitions included, at most, a “technical violation,” especially given the fact that the targeted officials also used bold print in selected portions of their responses.
“I think this is actually very fair,” Janavs said, looking over a sample “I don’t see frankly how this is particularly misleading.”
Janavs also rejected the council majority’s assertion that any signatures gathered since Dec. 10 should be invalidated. That was the day that Avalos, who had earlier approved the petitions, rescinded the approval and told proponents they must stop gathering signatures.
Janavs’ rulings included an order that the city clerk vacate the rescission and a finding that there was no preponderance of credible evidence that the clerk’s handling of the petitions was fraudulent.
The city has sued Avalos, alleging that she approved petitions as to form after the Nov. 21 deadline for submitting them.
Meanwhile, supporters of the council majority have launched their own recall drives against the other two council members and Avalos.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company