Thursday, January 14, 2010
Fee Award Denial in Carson Mayoral Recall Effort Left Standing by S.C.
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A Court of Appeal ruling that threw out a $78,000 attorney fee award in favor of the proponents of an effort to recall Carson Mayor James L. Dear was left standing yesterday by the state Supreme Court.
The justices unanimously denied review of the Oct. 13 ruling by this district’s Div. Five in Carson Citizens for Reform v. Kawagoe, 178 Cal.App.4th 357, which was based on Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu’s determination that various voter requests to withdraw their signatures from the recall petition were invalid because those individuals signed “withdrawal cards” before they signed the recall petition.
Div. Five clarified that a voter’s request to withdraw a signature from a recall petition is effective, without regard to when the voter signed the petition, as long as the request is filed with the appropriate election official before the petition is filed.
In 2007, Carson Citizens for Reform presented a recall petition to City Clerk Helen S. Kawagoe. The citizens’ group, backed by four former mayors, claimed, among other things, that the mayor’s support for development has heightened the city’s traffic problems.
The clerk determined that the petition contained 12,164 signatures. However, 5,842 voters made requests to withdraw their signatures, and approximately 100 of them had signed the petition after signing their withdrawal requests.
The petition and withdrawal requests were transmitted to then-County Registrar-Recorder Conny B. McCormack. Of the 5,842 withdrawal requests, 868 were verified as matching signatures on the petition. Those signatures were withdrawn from the petition, leaving 8,590 verified signatures—86 less than the number required to force a recall election.
Carson Citizens for Reform later sent a list of signatures they claimed were improperly excluded or withdrawn to the clerk, who submitted the list to the registrar.
After the registrar declined to review the list, the clerk filed suit against the registrar seeking a declaration of their respective duties to review the disputed signatures and withdrawal requests. Carson Citizens for Reform and the mayor were among those named real parties in interest.
The organization filed a cross-complaint against the clerk, registrar and mayor seeking a declaration that the signature withdrawal requests were invalid—because such requests require a declaration of circulator under Elections Code Sec. 104—and that Sec. 103 requires a withdrawal request to be signed after the voter signs the petition.
Treu agreed with those interpretations of Secs. 103 and 104 and granted a peremptory writ of mandate ordering the clerk to certify the recall petition as sufficient. He also found that the pro-recall group was the prevailing party and awarded attorney fees of $78,897.
A recall election was held in September 2008 but the mayor was not recalled. That result did not render the appeal moot, however, because the attorney fee award could not stand unless the trial judge’s interpretation of the statutes was correct, Justice Sandy Sandy R. Kriegler explained for the appellate court.
‘Petition’ or ‘Paper’
As to the merits, Kriegler emphasized that the Elections Code sections addressing withdrawal only require that a voter’s request to withdraw his signature be made in writing before the petition bearing his signature is filed.
Kriegler further concluded that a withdrawal request does not require the declaration of a circulator under Sec. 104 because that section applies only to a “petition” or a “paper,” terms which do not refer to withdrawal cards, which are filed directly by the voters.
The result reached by the Court of Appeal has been codified with respect to future elections by AB 1134, by Assemblyman Tony Mendoza, D-Norwalk, which was signed into law a few days before the opinion was handed down.
In other conference action, the justices declined to review an order sanctioning a Northridge attorney and her client, who is also her son, $10,000 for bringing a frivolous appeal, for the third time, as to the son’s standing to participate in a probate proceeding.
Div. Five explained in a Nov. 13 ruling that the possibility Justin Ringgold-Lockhart could inherit trust property from his mother, Nina Ringgold, in the future did not give him a property right in or a claim against the trust estate that may be affected by the probate proceeding in which he sought it intercede.
Nina Ringgold, who was a beneficiary and former trustee, was held in direct contempt of a court order to sign documents giving the successor trustee access to trust property—which arose from a prior order to cooperate and turn over documents that would allow trust property to be distributed to beneficiaries—by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael R. Hoff in 2006.
She subsequently filed numerous appeals which were dismissed due to her failure to obey the probate court’s order and then began representing her son in 2007, asserting that he had standing to appeal various orders as her successor-in-interest.
Div. Five declared Ringgold a vexatious litigant later that year, finding in an unpublished opinion that she had repeatedly tried to “frivolously litigate her right to appeal on her own behalf notwithstanding her refusal to abide by a court order.”
The case is Ringgold-Lockhart v. Sankary, B217816.
Copyright 2010, Metropolitan News Company