Thursday, August 30, 2018
Under Judge Beckloff’s Rulings:
Ballot Designations Claimed by Hunter, Ribons Fall
Michel’s Title As ‘Senior Deputy Prosecutor’ Stands
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Redondo Beach Senior Deputy City Prosecutor Sydne Jane Michel yesterday won a court victory over her opponent in the race for Superior Court Office No. 16, Los Angeles Deputy City Attorney Patricia Hunter, after Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff granted Michel’s writ petition and denied Hunter’s cross-petition in the candidates’ challenges to ballot designations.
The jurist also granted a writ sought by Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Javier Perez, rejecting defenses mounted by real estate broker/attorney Michael Ribons. The two are competitors on the Nov. 6 ballot for Office No. 113
The writ obtained by Michel requires Registrar-Recorder Dean Logan to disallow “Prosecuting Attorney, City of Los Angeles” as Hunter’s ballot designation, requiring that the designation revert to “Deputy City Attorney, City of Los Angeles,” which was on the ballot in the primary election.
Hunter’s position was that if she could not use the word “Prosecutor” in her ballot designation, Michel should likewise be barred.
Michel’s Reply Persuasive
Beckloff indicated that he found Michel’s reply to Hunter’s opposition “very persuasive.” It was drafted by attorney Fredric D. Woocher of Strumwasser & Woocher LLP.
At issue in the dispute between Michel and Hunter is the impact of one of the amendments to Elections Code §13107, effective Jan. 1. The statute now requires that if a candidates alludes to his or her status as a government lawyer, the designation must be comprised of “[w]ords designating the actual job title, as defined by statute, charter, or other governing instrument.”
Hunter relied heavily on a declaration by Los Angeles City Attorney Michael Feuer, which sets forth:
“The Los Angeles City Attorney’s Conflict of Interest Code, adopted by the Los Angeles City Council, lists Ms. Hunter’s actual job title as ‘Prosecuting Attorney’.”
“Under this Code, Ms. Hunter’s actual title is ‘Prosecuting Attorney’.”
The judge noted that Feuer had limited his statement with the words “Under this Code….”
He noted that the statute expressly refers to city charters, and the Los Angeles City Charter, as well as the Municipal Code, are clear as to Hunter’s title as “Deputy City Attorney.”
Beckloff did not credit the argument by Bradley W. Hertz, counsel for Hunter, that the Conflict of Interest Code constitutes a “governing instrument.”
The judge also rejected Hertz’s contention that there could be multiple titles for a single job, and that the Conflict of Interest Code had set forth another set of applicable titles. Beckloff explained that the conflict code simply describes job duties, rather than creating titles.
Beckloff took a conciliatory tone when denying Hunter’s cross-petition. He told Hertz:
“To the extent your argument is based on fairness, more than you know, I appreciate the argument.”
“I don’t get to apply what I think is fair, I apply the statute.”
Applying the same standard to Hunter’s cross-petition as he had to Michel’s petition, Beckloff looked to the Redondo Beach laws.
“Everything indicates that her title is ‘Prosecutor,’ ” he said.
Denying the cross-petition, he added:
“Mr. Hertz, I’m sorry but it’s what the statute requires.”
Perez Writ Issued
Beckloff found impermissible Ribons’s use of the term “Arbitrator” as part of his ballot designation of “Arbitrator/Lawyer.” The judge recounted the procedural history, noting that Chad D. Morgan had appeared on the initial hearing date of Aug. 23, before Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James Chalfant, and successfully contested the court’s jurisdiction over Ribons for lack of personal service.
Chalfant agreed and gave Perez until Aug. 27 to effect personal service, which occurred Aug. 24.
Ribons filed an opposition, which Beckloff spoke of highly at yesterday’s hearing. He told Ribons’ attorney:
“The notion that you did not have enough time to make the best opposition you could have is belied by your work product.”
Jurisdictional Arguments Unavailing
Notwithstanding his praise of Morgan’s pleadings, Beckloff did not accept the contentions. He rejected the argument that the court lacked jurisdiction in the matter because Ribons had not been served 10 days in advance of the hearing.
Ribons relied on the 1954 California Supreme Court opinion in Younger v. Jordan, in which the court said it could not “proceed to a hearing” on a writ petition because a candidate, whose ouster from the ballot was being sought, had not been served. Beckloff pointed out that there, an applicant was seeking issuance of a writ in the first instance.
“How is this a writ in the first instance,” he asked Morgan, “when we are all here having oral argument?”
For his part, Morgan conceded that his client had been served and that the attorney would not be there or have filed an opposition if he had not had notice of some sort.
Moving to the merits, Beckloff agreed with Ribons that his work as an arbitrator is a profession. He disagreed, however, that it was his “principal profession,” as required by §13107 for a ballot designation.
The judge noted that Ribons indicated in a declaration that he had worked 60 hours as an arbitrator in the past 15 months, but had declined to share with the court how much money he had received as compensation. (Volunteer work does not suffice under Code of Regulations §20716, supplementing §13107.)
Beckloff cited Evidence Code §412, which says:
“If weaker and less satisfactory evidence is offered when it was within the power of the party to produce stronger and more satisfactory evidence, the evidence offered should be viewed with distrust.”
Applying that rule, the judge found without merit Hunter’s assertion that arbitration is a principal profession for him.
Beckloff also addressed the issue of what Ribons’s should be now that “Arbitrator” is not allowed. Counsel for both candidates indicated that “Lawyer/Real Estate Broker” would be acceptable, but Senior Deputy County Counsel Gina V. Eachus expressed the view that such a designation would be impermissible under §13107, as it now reads.
The judge indicated that he would need to read the statute to decided the question. At the end of the day, Beckloff determined that the ballot designation will simply be “Lawyer.”
Copyright 2018, Metropolitan News Company