Monday, October 18, 2004
Undersheriff May Hold Veterans’ Liasion Position at Same Time, Attorney General Lockyer Says
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A county’s undersheriff may also serve as its veterans service officer, Attorney General Bill Lockyer has concluded.
The attorney general, in an opinion made public Friday, rejected a request by two Inyo County residents for leave to bring a quo warranto action against Jack Goodrich. Goodrich has been the county’s undersheriff since 1995 and its veterans service officer since 2001.
Quo warranto is generally the exclusive remedy for a citizen seeking to prevent a public official from holding an office illegally.
Beverly Harry and Patrick McLernon claimed that Goodrich’s occupancy of both positions violates the common law rule against simultaneously holding incompatible offices, as well as a county initiative barring merger of the Veterans Service Office with the sheriff’s department.
Lockyer opined that the veterans service officer, sometimes referred to as a CVSO, is an employee rather than an officer, for purposes of the incompatability doctrine.
The position, he explained, is authorized by the state’s Military and Veterans Code. The board of supervisors of a county is entitled to fill the post if it decides to create it in that county.
The role of a CVSO, according to the code, is to assist veterans in filling out benefit applications and in such other ways as the board dictates. The CVSO must be a veteran; Goodrich—who served in the Army during the Vietnam era—qualifies, the attorney general said.
A government position is an “office,” for purposes of the doctrine, only if it involves the exercise of “sovereign powers,” Lockyer explained. The incompatability doctrine only applies if both positions are offices, the attorney general said, concluding that the CVSO position does not qualify.
“A CVSO’s duties may best be characterized as administrative tasks connected with securing and maintaining veterans’ benefits, such as compensation, pension, and disability entitlements, vocational rehabilitation, educational opportunities, and burial rights,” the attorney general wrote. “A CVSO serves primarily as a facilitator and liaison with other local, state, and federal health and social services departments, advocating for veterans and their families....Hence, a CVSO position lacks the ‘sovereign powers’ element for purposes of the common law rule.”
The attorney general cited two other problems with the request.
The requesting parties had asked that Goodrich be removed as CVSO. That conflicts with a 1940 California Supreme Court decision and two attorney general opinions holding that it’s the first-acquired office that is forfeited if quo warranto is successfully brought against a person for holding dual offices illegally.
As for the challenge under the local initiative, Lockyer said that nothing in the measure would preclude the same individual from serving as undersheriff and CVSO even if the agencies cannot be consolidated.
He added that the attorney general normally does not interpret local charters or ordinances, a position cited by his spokesman recently in explaining his decision not to bring a quo warranto action challenging City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo’s right to hold office.
Several individuals, including Public Defender Michael Judge and former city attorney candidate Lea Purwin D’Agostino, had claimed that Delgadillo had not been “qualified to practice” for five years prior to taking office, as required by the city’s charter, because he was an inactive State Bar member for part of that period.
The opinion on the Inyo County challenge, prepared for Lockyer by Deputy Attorney General Daniel G. Stone, is No. 04-310.
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company