Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, August 17, 2006


Page 3


S.C. Declines to Review Ruling on Ventura Public Safety Initiative




The California Supreme Court yesterday unanimously declined to review a Court of Appeal ruling that struck down a Ventura County ordinance prescribing minimum budgets for the district attorney, sheriff, public defender and fire department.

The justices, meeting in San Francisco for their weekly conference, left standing the ruling by Div. Six of this district’s Court of Appeal, which said that allowing the people of a general law county to prescribe budgets through the initiative process would interfere with the prerogatives of the board of supervisors.

That ruling reversed Ventura Superior Court Judge Henry Walsh’s order upholding Ventura County Ordinance 4808.

Supervisors adopted the ordinance in 1995, dispensing with a public vote that would otherwise have been necessary after the petition was signed by the required number of registered voters. The ordinance established 1995-96 budgets for the affected agencies and required that the each agency’s budget in subsequent years would be not less than its base year budget plus “associated inflationary costs.”

The intent of the ordinance, its backers explained, was to prevent the county from offsetting the one-half cent sales tax dedicated to public safety, adopted in 1993 under Proposition 172, by using general revenues that would otherwise have gone to those agencies for other services.

Funding Formula

Litigation initiated by the district attorney and sheriff, and joined by the City of Thousand Oaks and citizens who backed the ordinance, ensued in 2003 after supervisors decided that the term “associated inflationary costs” meant the rate of inflation as reflected by the Consumer Price Index, rather than the actual increases in the agencies’ costs of providing services.

The board’s new interpretation improperly cost the agencies more than $50 million, District Attorney Greg Totten and Sheriff Bob Brooks alleged. The board argued that its interpretation was correct, and that the ordinance was in any event unconstitutional.

In April of last year, after expending more than $1.4 million on the litigation, the parties reached a settlement in which they agreed to a new funding formula, with the board reserving the right to appeal solely on the constitutional issue. The county counsel explained at the time that if the ordinance were struck down on appeal, it would be up to supervisors to decide whether to continue to abide by the compromise.

But President Justice Kenneth Yegan, writing for the Court of Appeal, explained that as a general law county, Ventura is bound by statutes giving non-delegable budgetary power over county agencies to county supervisors. In enacting those laws, the presiding justice said, “the Legislature intended that the authority to adopt budgets for county public safety agencies be exercised specifically and exclusively by the board of supervisors, barring use of the local initiative power.”

Were it otherwise, Yegan reasoned, the voters could adopt a funding formula that would cause the public safety budget to grow to a point at which the county lacked money to meet other needs, including those, such as maintenance of facilities for delinquent and dependent juveniles, conduct of elections, and health care for the indigent, which it is statutorily required to make adequate provision for.

Other Action

The case drew several amicus briefs, with the California District Attorneys Association, California State Sheriffs Association, and Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association defending the ordinance and the California State Association of Counties attacking it.

The case is Totten v. Board of Supervisors, B182733.

In other conference action, the justices:

•Declined to hear Janet Burkle’s challenge to a Court of Appeal ruling upholding an antenuptial agreement with billionaire Ron Burkle, former owner of the Ralphs grocery chain.

The Burkles were married in 1974. In June 1997, Janet Burkle filed for divorce.

By August of that year they were trying to reconcile. In November they executed a marital dissolution agreement.

They then lived together until 2002. In 2003 Janet Burkle again filed for divorce, and claimed that the agreement executed in 1997 was void and unenforceable because she was so depressed and emotionally dependent upon her husband that she did not sign the agreement of her own free will, and because her husband had concealed assets and financial information from her.

She claimed that her husband concealed information about merger discussions involving Ralphs. The Court of Appeal agreed with retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Stephen Lachs, who heard the case as a private judge, that there was no evidence of concealment or misrepresentation of material information.

The panel also held that the agreement benefited both parties, and was not so one-sided as to create a presumption that Ron Burkle used undue influence. The case is In re Marriage of Burkle, B179751.

•Agreed to decide whether a prevailing party seeking an award of attorney fees under the private attorney general statute, Code of Civil Procedure Sec. 1021.5, must show that it made adequate efforts to resolve the dispute short of litigation. The Third District Court of Appeal held in Vasquez v. State of California, D045592, that such a requirement exists only where the plaintiff did not prevail in the litigation but seeks fees on a “catalyst” theory.

•Declined to review a ruling by the Court of Appeal for this district rejecting longtime KNX general manager George Nicholaw’s age discrimination suit against Infinity Broadcasting Corporation.

Div. One held—in an unpublished opinion by 85-year-old Presiding Justice Vaino Spencer—that Nicholaw, vice president and general manager of the all-news station from 1967 to 2003, who was terminated three years ago at age 75 failed to refute Infinity’s showing that he was let go for a legitimate business reason.

Infinity, which owns KNX as well as its former competitor KFWB, said it wanted to increase profitability by consolidating management of the stations under a single executive with experience running several stations. Spencer noted that the station had treated Nicholaw more favorably than his KFWB counterpart, Roger Nadel, who was 23 years younger than Nicholaw, and who was not offered continued employment or a severance package as Nicholaw was.

•Granted review in Chambers v. Appellate Division, D047661, dealing with the scope of discovery of police personnel records under Evidence Code Sec. 1045, the codification of Pitchess v. Superior Court. The Court of Appeal held, among other things, that a protective order did not encompass derivative information generated as a result of a prior successful Pitchess motion as to the same police officer in an unrelated case involving another person.


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