Thursday, September 14, 2006
Court of Appeal Reinstates Council’s Language for Term Limit Measure on November Ballot
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The ballot title adopted by the Los Angeles City Council for Measure R—which will allow council members to serve three terms if approved in November—was not misleading or “partial” for failing to note that there is currently a two-term limit, this district’s Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
Div. Eight issued a peremptory writ of mandate overturning an order by retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert H. O’Brien, who sits on assignment, directing the city clerk to amend the title to explicitly state that the measure would increase the number of allowed terms.
The measure will have a heading followed by a question, which voters can respond to by choosing “yes” or “no.” The measure’s heading adopted by the council read, in part:
“COUNCIL MEMBER TERM LIMITS OF THREE TERMS . . .”
O’Brien directed that it be changed to:
“LENGTHENING COUNCILMEMBER TERM LIMITS . . .”
The question section below the heading originally read, in part:
“Shall the Charter be amended and ordinance adopted to: change Councilmember term limits to three terms . . .?”
O’Brien ordered the question changed to:
“Shall the Charter be amended and ordinance adopted to: lengthen Councilmember term limits to three terms . . . ?”
O’Brien said that his language was “more specific.”
But Justice Laurence D. Rubin, writing for the Court of Appeal, said:
“To comply with the election statutes, the ballot title need not be the ‘most accurate,’ ‘most comprehensive,’ or ‘fairest’ that a skilled wordsmith might imagine. The title need only contain words that are neither false, misleading, nor partial.”
Rubin acknowledged that the “question could be more complete, and thus more informative, by noting that the measure increased the number of terms a council member could serve from two to three,” but said “the completeness of a ballot question is not the test the test is whether it is partial (or false or misleading.).”
“We find nothing in the city council’s original ballot title which is false or misleading. Neither do we find the language of the original heading to be partial.”
The justice explained:
“The council’s language is impartial because it does not hint at how the electorate should vote, nor disparage one side or the other.”
Last week, O’Brien held that the measure violated the state Constitution because it combined the term limit issue with an ethics reform issue, which would force voters to either vote for both or against both. He ordered that the measure not appear on the November ballot.
The Court of Appeal stayed that order pending a hearing on the merits set for October 3.
Justice Paul Boland and Div. Five Presiding Justice Paul Turner, sitting in Div. Eight on assignment, concurred in the opinion.
The case is Martinez v. Superior Court (Pasley), 06 S.O.S. 4935.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company