Monday, February 8, 2016
C.A. Rejects Term-Limits Challenge to Ex-Stockton Mayor’s Candidacy
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A term limits provision in Stockton’s city charter allows a person to serve two terms as a council member plus two terms as mayor, the Third District Court of Appeal ruled Friday.
“Constitutional law requires any limitation on a citizen’s right to stand for election for a public office to be stated expressly and clearly,” Justice George Nicholson wrote for the court. Ralph Lee White’s contention that Ann Johnston was ineligible to run for reelection as mayor in 2012 fails, Nicholson said, because even if the charter were ambiguous on the subject, Johnston would have been eligible.
The provision at issue, §606 of the charter, reads:
“No person elected as either Mayor or Councilmember shall be eligible to serve, or serve, as either Mayor or Councilmember for more than two (2) terms . . . .”
Johnston served two terms on the council, then ran for mayor in 2008 and won. She then ran for reelection in 2012, with White as one of her opponents.
White tried to remove her from the ballot, arguing that the charter limited her to a total of two terms in city office, whether as council member or mayor.
San Joaquin Superior Court Judge Lesley Holland sided with Johnston, who finished first in the primary, in which White was eliminated. Johnston then lost the November runoff.
White challenged the election result by bringing a petition for writ of mandate, which the judge denied in 2013.
The “persons” to whom the section applies, Nicholson wrote, “are the individuals elected as either mayor or council member, who collectively comprise the city council.”
The measure “prohibits those persons from serving, or being eligible to serve, in either the office of mayor or the office of council member more than two terms,” the justice continued, and “imposes term limits based on the elected office, not on membership in the city council as a whole.”
Because of the constitutional rule favoring eligibility, he continued, “it was incumbent upon the city council, if it intended section 606 to apply cumulatively, to say so clearly.”
He noted that the terms limit provision of the state Constitution explicitly limits a legislator to “12 years in the Senate, the Assembly, or both, in any combination of terms.” Because the Stockton provision contains no similarly clear language, “we are required to resolve any ambiguity in favor of eligibility to run for office.”
Even if resort to extrinsic evidence was necessary, Nicholson went on to say, it would support the trial court’s ruling. He noted that at the time the provision was adopted, voters rejected a more restrictive measure that would have said “[n]o person elected as a member of the City Council shall be eligible to serve, or serve, for more than two consecutive terms.”
The case is White v. City of Stockton, 16 S.O.S. 736.
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