Friday, October 20, 2006
Republican Lawsuit Says Brown Ineligible to be Attorney General
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Republican Party leaders filed suit yesterday challenging Democratic state attorney general candidate Jerry Brown’s eligibility to hold that office.
Contra Costa County Republican Party Chairman Thomas G. Del Beccaro Adam C. Abrahms, head of the Los Angeles chapter of the California Republican Lawyers Association, and others filed suit in Sacramento Superior Court claiming that, because Brown was an inactive member of the State Bar until 2003, he does not meet the requirements to be attorney general.
The suit claims that Brown, currently mayor of Oakland, fails to qualify under Government Code Sec. 12503, which says:
“No person shall be eligible to the office of Attorney General unless he shall have been admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of the state for a period of at least five years immediately preceding his election or appointment to such office.”
Charles H. Bell of Bell, McAndrews & Hiltachk in Sacramento, attorney for the plaintiffs, told the MetNews yesterday that under that section and case law interpreting it, a person must have been an active member of the State Bar for the five-year period immediately prior to becoming attorney general.
“Its baffling that Brown thought that this wouldn’t become a problem for him,” he said.
The suit, which names as defendants Brown and the county registrars for five counties, seeks to enjoin the counting of  votes for Brown in the November election. Bell said the plaintiffs will seek an order shortening time Monday for a hearing on an application for a preliminary injunction, which they hope to have heard next Friday.
Bell described the action as a taxpayer suit designed to prevent waste of resources in counting ballots for a candidate who is ineligible to hold office.
Zachary Wasserman of Wendel, Rosen, Black & Dean in Oakland called the suit a “publicity stunt” that “has no merit.”  Wasserman said all the code requires is that a person have been admitted to the bar for the immediate prior five years, and that Brown was admitted in 1965.
“Inactive members may transfer to . . . active status at any time upon request,” he said.”They do not need any new qualifications, test or oaths.”
Brown will “fight back like hell,” Wasserman said. He said his firm is “involved” in the matter, but said that it has not yet been decided who will represent Brown in court.
Bell said that he hasn’t personally spoken to Brown’s opponent in the attorney general race, state Sen. Chuck Poochigian, R-Fresno, but added that they wouldn’t have filed suit without letting the Poochigian campaign know they were going to do something that would affect him.
Poochigian told the MetNews that he knew there was an issue, but only became aware “fairly recently” that a lawsuit was going to go forward. He called the suit  “appropriate,” adding:
“The issue is serious . . . [and] needs to be resolved.”
Poochigian also said in a release:
“Fidelity to the law is imperative for the individual who holds the office of California Attorney General. A serious question has been raised regarding Jerry Brown’s failure to meet the legal requirements specified by state law to be a candidate for Attorney General.  Hopefully, today’s lawsuit will settle the question.”
A Brown spokesperson called for Poochigian to withdraw the lawsuit, which he described as a “desperate dirty trick,” and said in a release:
“[H]e is either demonstrating a complete lack of understanding of California law or believes it’s acceptable to file frivolous law suits. Either is unacceptable in a person running for Attorney General.”
Other plaintiffs include Yolo County GOP Chair Mark A. Pruner, David B. Prince and Carl A. Burton. The registrar defendants serve the counties of Los Angeles, Contra Costa, Yolo, Sacramento and Santa Clara.
Bell said those counties include over half of California’s voters.
The action is somewhat reminiscent of a challenge to Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo’s right to hold office. The federal court action filed on behalf of Lea D’Agostino, an unsuccessful opponent of Delgadillo’s in the 2001 election, was brought as a civil rights suit but thrown out for lack of jurisdiction, leaving unresolved the question of whether the city attorney, who was an inactive member of the State Bar during a portion of the five years preceding his election, was qualified under a charter provision having some similarity to the statute under which Brown is being challenged.
The case is Del Beccaro v. Brown, Sacramento Superior Court  Case No. 06AS04494.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company