CANDIDATE FOR A LOS ANGELES SUPERIOR COURT open seat will be allowed to run as “Deputy District Attorney” even though she is not a “Deputy District Attorney.” Why? Because a judge of that court says so.
In an ill-reasoned decision, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James Chalfant yesterday spurned a challenge to the ballot designation of Gloria Huerta. The ballot will tell voters that Huerta holds a position as a county prosecutor when, in fact, she relinquished that post in March of last year.
It’s true that Elections Code §13107 permits a candidate to use three words to describe his or her “current principal professions, vocations, or occupations” or those pursuits engaged in “during the calendar year immediately preceding the filing of nomination documents.” But that’s elaborated upon in regulations promulgated by the Office of Secretary of State.
Sec. 20714(d) of the Code of Regulations, which has the force of law, provides:
“If the candidate is engaged in a profession, vocation or occupation at the time he or she files his or her nomination documents, the candidate’s proposed ballot designation is entitled to consist of the candidate’s current principal professions, vocations and occupations. In the event the candidate does not have a current principal profession, vocation or occupation at the time he or she files his or her nomination documents, the candidate may use a ballot designation consisting of his or her principal professions, vocations or occupations, which the candidate was principally engaged in during the calendar year immediately preceding the filing of the candidate’s nomination papers.”
“Deputy District Attorney” could be used only “[i]n the event the candidate does not have a current principal profession, vocation or occupation.” Huerta does have a current profession. She’s an active member of the State Bar, and, as such, under §20714(b)(1) she “is entitled to consider it one of his or her ‘principal’ professions.”
OW DOES CHALFANT RESPOND to the restriction set forth in §20714(d) on use of a former “principal profession, vocation, or occupation”? He doesn’t. He quotes it in the course of rattling off election provisions, but ignores it in the discussion, though it was cited in the memorandum of points and authorities submitted by the petitioner, Deputy District Attorney Malissa Hammond, a rival candidate for Office No. 118.
Focusing on §20714(b)(1), permitting reference to “attorney” (or other professions) where the licensee is on paid-up active status, Chalfant says that provision “is permissive and allows a candidate who is actively licensed in California to rely on the license as his or her profession” but “does not compel the candidate to do so.”
The fact that that Huerta is permitted but not required to use the word “attorney” or “lawyer” or some similar description is no answer to the absolute bar erected by §20714(d) to her use of a former job title when she has a current profession: that of an attorney.
She can’t be forced to use the description “Attorney”—indeed she can’t be forced to use any ballot designation at all, it’s discretionary—and could use a vocation such as “homemaker.” What she can’t do (if the law is followed, that is), is to use “Deputy District Attorney” when she possesses a current profession.
It makes sense to allow use of a past pursuit if there is no current activity engaged in. If someone has been a teacher or actor or electrician, or whatever, during the past calendar year, but has been fired or laid off or temporarily incapacitated, it is not misleading to refer to the former capacity rather than the person being limited to a designation of “unemployed.” That is consistent with the requirement of §13107(e)(1) that a ballot designation must be bounced if it “would mislead the voter.”
Y REFUSING TO TAKE COGNIZANCE of §20714(d), Chalfant has gained complicity in the perpetration of a fraud on voters.
Huerta will be represented to be a “Deputy District Attorney” when that is a falsehood.
Chalfant botched this one, and the error is one that might well affect the outcome of the election for Office No. 118. “Deputy District Attorney” has proven to be vote-attracting ballot designation. Also, in recent years, female candidates have had an election advantage, as have persons with Latin surnames. By the way, “Huerta” actually goes by the surname “Sullivan” on a day-today basis, though her husband’s surname is “Huerta.” So, Huerta has three advantages.
A worthier candidate—namely Hammond or Deputy District Attorney Keith Koyano—might well lose the election to Huerta based on Chalfant permitting her misrepresentation on the ballot.
If a worthy aspirant for public office loses because of political pluses enjoyed by a rival that are consistent with the law, so be it. As Chalfant observed yesterday in court, “The law’s the law.” But where a candidate’s chances are adversely impacted by a judge’s failure to adhere to the law, there is something wrong, quite wrong, and the public has been disserved.
Copyright 2022, Metropolitan News Company