Wednesday, December 18, 2019
Ballot Designation Is Changed From ‘Retired’ to ‘Retired Counselor-at-Law’
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A man who obtained a name-change from “Michael Richard Cummins” to “Judge Mike Cummins” cannot be blocked from running for a Los Angeles Superior Court open seat in the March 3 primary under his new name, notwithstanding that he has engaged in “game playing,” a judge of that court held yesterday.
However, Judge James Chalfant also ruled, in response to a writ petition, that Cummins may not use the ballot designation of “Retired,” standing alone, because, under an election regulation, that word must come before the person’s most recent occupation, profession, or vocation.
Cummins, now retired, was a judge in Stanislaus County from 1994-2006, but more recently was a practicing attorney, from 2006 to 2017. Chalfant gave him a choice of four ballot designations: “Retired Attorney,” “Retired Attorney at Law,” “Retired Lawyer,” or “Retired Counselor-at-Law.”
He chose “Retired Counselor-at-Law.”
In unsuccessfully seeking election last year to the post of San Luis Obispo County district attorney, Cummins ran under his new name, obtained by court decree in 2017, but had no ballot designation.
Elections Code Provision
The petitioner in yesterday’s proceeding was David Gould, campaign consultant for Cummins’s election rival, Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Emily Cole. Gould’s lawyers argued that use of the word “Judge” as part of Cummins’s name was barred by Elections Code §13106, which provides:
“No title or degree shall appear on the same line on a ballot as a candidate’s name, either before or after the candidate’s name, in the case of any election to any office.”
Chalfant responded in his tentative ruling, which he adopted, as final, after a brief hearing:
“Gould points out that Cummins intentionally changed his name to circumvent section 13106’s prohibition against using the title ‘Judge’ on the ballot, a fact which Cummins has publicly admitted….Cummins’ opposition again admits this fact…, but correctly notes that the plain meaning of section 13106 only prohibits usage of titles and degrees and does not impose limitations on the use a candidate’s legal name….
“Although Cummins is guilty of game-playing in changing his name for the purpose of evading section 13106, he complied with section 13104 by legally changing his name and his use of his legal name is not prohibited by section 13106.”
(Chalfant did not explain the relevance of §13104, which bars the use on the ballot of a new name within one year after it is changed—which may be effected through exercise of the common law right, independently of statute—with that one-year requirement not applying where the statutory procedure is utilized or the name is changed through marriage. The order for Cummins’s name change was signed in June 2017.)
Cummins Claims Unfairness
Cummins, who represented himself, contended that Code of Regulations §20716(h)(4)—which provides that “[a] candidate may not use the word ‘retired’ in his or her ballot designation if that candidate possesses another more recent, intervening principal profession, vocation, or occupation”—is “highly technical and arguably unfair” because he is, in actuality, a retired judge.
“This fairness argument is untenable in light of Cummins’ deliberate attempt to circumvent the Election Code’s prohibition against misleading voters. Cummins is most accurately a retired attorney and must change his ballot designation to reflect that fact. Otherwise, his name and ballot designation are collectively misleading.”
Gould’s request for an award of attorney fees under the private attorney general doctrine did not come up, nor did Chalfant consider the possibility of no ballot designation.
Meanwhile, criminal defense attorney David D. Diamond, a candidate for Office No. 162, has succeeded in his protest to the Office of Registrar-Recorder that the chosen designation of a rival in that race, civil rights attorney Caree Annette Harper, was improper. She wanted to be listed as “Attorney/Community Educator.”
The words “Community Educator” stemmed from her production of segments for a Compton radio station, KJLH.
The designation has been changed to “Attorney/Radio Producer.”
The Registrar-Recorder’s Office has advised attorney Onica Cole that it has rejected her challenge to the designation of Tom Parsekian, an opponent of hers in the race for Office No. 150. He will be listed, as he desires, as “Attorney/Mediator.”
Cole questioned whether “Mediator” is a “principal profession, vocation, or occupation of the candidate,” as required by the Elections Code. She was told Monday that a determination was made in favor of the designation, and Cole was advised yesterday, in response to a further inquiry by her:
“Mr. Parsekian did provide more information. However the information is confidential due to attorney client privilege. We can say that he provided detail and quantifying information.”
Cole—who is listed by the State Bar as “Onica Sherri Cole”—wanted to run as Sherri “Onica” Valle Cole. The Registrar-Recorder’s Office has changed it to Sherri Onica Valle Cole, removing the quote marks from “Onica,” but permitting her to reverse her first and second names.
Copyright 2019, Metropolitan News Company