Monday, April 24, 2006
Judge Rejects Challenges to Stem-Cell Institute
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
California’s novel, $3 billion stem cell research institute is a legitimate state agency and two lawsuits challenging its constitutionality have no merit, an Alameda Superior Court ruled Friday.
The ruling came a month after a four-day trial in which lawyers with connections to anti-abortion groups claimed the country’s most ambitious stem cell research agency violated California law because it wasn’t a true state agency and its managers had a host of conflicts of interest.
But Superior Court Judge Bonnie Lewman Sabraw handed the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine an unambiguous victory, writing that the lawsuits failed to show that Proposition 71, which created the agency in 2004, “is clearly, positively and unmistakably unconstitutional.”
Sabraw’s ruling becomes official in 10 days unless the losing attorneys come up with new and dramatically different arguments.
The plaintiffs in the action, the National Tax Limitation Foundation and People’s Advocate, had sought direct relief from the California Supreme Court, but their petitions were denied by the high court on March 23 “without prejudice to seeking other relief.”
The two groups, represented by the Life Legal Defense Foundation, claimed that the initiative violates the state Constitution because it gives public funds to an entity, the Independent Citizens’ Oversight Committee, which the petitioners claimed was illegally constituted because it is not under the exclusive control of the state.
Critics, including some supporters of the measure, also object to provisions that exempt institute officials from open-government and conflict-of-interest laws. State Sens. Deborah Ortiz, D-Sacramento, and George Runner, R-Lancaster, are sponsoring SB 401, which would modify those exemptions.
Attorney General Bill Lockyer, whose office represented the institute and the state officials named as defendants in the case, said in a statement:
“This is a significant legal victory in a crucial case for the people of this state. In passing Proposition 71, voters made a decision to put California in the vanguard of a scientific movement that holds tremendous promise for advancing public health. As this ruling resoundingly says, Proposition 71 is clearly constitutional. It’s unfortunate that the plaintiffs, after losing at the polls, went to court to frustrate the voters’ will. The sooner this legal fight is over, the sooner California can move to where the people want it: in the forefront of stem cell research.”
The institute recently made its first grants, for research training purposes, with funds from the sale of $14 million of bond anticipation notes to six California philanthropic entities. Sales to investors have been delayed because of the litigation.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company