Thursday, July 19, 2018
Judge Rejects Bid to Bar Becerra’s Name From Nov. 6 Ballot
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A Sacramento Superior Court judge has denied a petition for a writ of mandate sought by an unsuccessful candidate for state attorney general to bar the name of the appointed incumbent, Xavier Becerra, from appearing on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Judge Richard K. Sueyoshi heard arguments on Friday, took the matter under submission, and ruled Tuesday, with parties learning of the decision yesterday.
Los Angeles attorney Eric Early—who came in last out of four contenders for the office of attorney general in the June 5 primary—contended that Becerra is ineligible to be elected because of his years on inactive State Bar status. He relied on Government Code §12503 which provides:
“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.”
Becerra was admitted to the State Bar on June 14, 1985; switched from active to inactive status on Jan. 1, 1991; then resumed active status on Jan. 1, 2017, after Gov. Jerry Brown announced the appointment of him as attorney general. At the time of the Dec. 1, 2016 announcement, Becerra was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
On Jan. 24, 2017, Becerra was sworn in as attorney general, replacing Kamala Harris, who resigned to take a seat in the U.S. Senate, to which she had been elected.
Sueyoshi, in denying the writ petition, said:
“The plain language of Government Code section 12503 provides no person is eligible to be Attorney General unless he or she has ‘been admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of the state for a period of five years immediately preceding’ his or her election or appointment. Respondent Becerra was admitted to the State Bar in 1985….Only the Supreme Court is authorized to disbar an attorney after his or her admission to practice….There is no evidence before the Court that Respondent Becerra was disbarred or otherwise involuntarily prohibited from engaging in the practice of law in California at any point between 1991 and 2017.
“The Court finds that the plain language of Government Code section 12503 does not prohibit from serving as Attorney General a person who has voluntarily been placed on ‘inactive’ status with the State Bar at any point during the five-year period immediately preceding his or her election or appointment to the office.”
In arguing Friday that the writ should be granted, the attorneys for Early insisted the statute requires five years of practicing law prior to being elected as attorney general.
Antelope Valley attorney R. Rex Parris, who is mayor of Lancaster, said the statute “couldn’t be more unambiguous,” pointing out:
“It says admitted to practice.”
Becerra, he maintained “was not,” explaining:
“I think everybody here agrees, that he was not admitted to practice law once he became—once he gave up his license and became inactive.”
Long Beach attorney Brentford Ferreira also argued that the words “admitted to practice before the Supreme Court” mean “actively practicing,” declaring:
“To interpret the statute any other way is nonsensical. It really is. It’s nonsensical. Mere admission to the bar, so many lawyers get admitted to the bar and then decide, I think I will be a businessman. I think I will go to the business side of this corporation I’m working for. Or I will do something else. Or I have a family farm and that was more fun than this is. I’m going back. Those people are not eligible to be the highest lawyer in the state unless they have come back to the law five years before attempting to run. That is our position.”
The judge brought up the fact that when Jerry Brown (now governor) ran for attorney general in 2006, there was an unsuccessful Superior Court challenge to his eligibility for the office on the same basis.
“The case was heard. It never got to the Court of Appeals. [Sic.] The Legislature was absolutely aware of this issue and they could not muster the votes to change it. That is really what happened.
“The Legislature couldn’t change that statute because they did not agree on changing the statute. And they left it alone.”
“And the plain meaning of the word is what it means. And does the court want to take it upon itself to change the definition of the word practice? Because that is what the court has to do. Unless I’m wrong about what practice means.”
Gary S. Winuk, representing Becerra, spoke briefly. He said a person is “admitted” to practice whether on active or inactive status.
Early said yesterday an appeal to the Third District Court of Appeal is being prepared.
Becerra is in a run-off with former El Dorado Superior Court Judge Steven Bailey.
Copyright 2018, Metropolitan News Company