Los Angeles Superior Court Ruling:
Woman May Seek Office of Los Angeles City Attorney Despite Period of Inactive Bar Status During
Five-Year Period Preceding Election, Judge Rules, Saying She Was Still ‘Qualified’ to Practice Law
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A retired prosecutor is entitled to the label of a “Deputy District Attorney” on the June 7 ballot, under a ruling yesterday by a Los Angeles Superior Court judge in one of three writ denials in election cases.
Judge James Chalfant, in addition to rebuffing Deputy District Attorney Melissa Hammond’s challenge to the ballot designation of retiree Georgia Huerta, turned down Huerta’s bid to have her designation changed to “Deputy District Attorney, County of Los Angeles.” Judge Mitchell Beckloff declared that Los Angeles city attorney candidate Marina Torres meets the city Charter’s requirement of having been “qualified” to practice law during the previous five-year period although she was on inactive bar status during a portion of that time.
In light of the imminency of candidate information being transmitted to the printer of the sample ballots and the voter handbook, prospects of writ relief in the Court of Appeal are virtually nonexistent.
Elections Code Provision
In turning down Hammond’s petition, Chalfant relied upon Elections Code §13107(b)(1) which authorizes a candidate to use, as a ballot designation, “no more than three words designating either the current principal professions, vocations, or occupations of the candidate, or the principal professions, vocations, or occupations of the candidate during the calendar year immediately preceding the filing of nomination documents.”
He said in his order:
“Huerta may use a ballot designation of ‘Deputy District Attorney’’ if that was her principal profession, vocation, or occupation during the calendar year immediately preceding her filing of nomination documents. Huerta was a deputy district attorney from January 1 through March 31, 2021, and she filed her nomination papers on February 15, 2022….Huerta’s service as a deputy-district attorney for three months clearly meets the requirement of a substantial involvement of time and effort such that it was one of her primary endeavors during calendar year 2021.”
In her memorandum of points and authorities, Hammond cited §20714(d) of the Code of Regulations (“CCR”) which says (with emphasis added by Hammond):
“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.”
The memorandum argues that Hammond could “only use a prior profession if she has no current profession,” remarking:
“This is not the case. The regulations say that she has a profession.”
It cites §20714(b)(1) which says:
“(1) If a candidate is licensed by the State of California to engage in a profession, vocation or occupation, the candidate is entitled to consider it one of his or her “principal” professions, vocations or occupations if (i) the candidate has maintained his or her license current as of the date he or she filed his or nomination documents by complying with all applicable requirements of the respective licensure, including the payment of all applicable license fees and (ii) the status of the candidate’s license is active at the time he or she filed his or her nomination documents.”
Huerta is on active status.
Chalfant Rejects Argument
Chalfant responded in his order:
“Hammond’s contention that 2 CCR section 20174(b)(1) requires Huerta to consider law as her profession is inconsistent with the regulation’s language, which is permissive and allows a candidate who is actively licensed in California to rely on the license as his or her profession. It does not compel the candidate to do so.
“More important, Hammond wrongly conflates profession, vocation, and occupation together. Huerta’s profession may be the law, but her principal occupation in the calendar year before her nominating papers was that of a deputy district attorney….That is all that is required.”
The judge commented:
“Huerta is a retired deputy district attorney and her most accurate ballot designation may be ‘Deputy District Attorney, Retired’. However, no party wants this designation….
“Presumably, the court could compel Huerta to use this designation if section 13107 and the evidence require it. But complete accuracy is not required.”
Chalfant did not explain how that designation could be used consistent with the three-word limitation.
At yesterday’s hearing, he said of Huerta’s designation:
“While it’s not the most accurate designation, it’s not misleading, either.”
He also remarked:
“The law’s the law, and she can do it.”
Huerta’s Writ Petition
Hammond’s challenge did not implicate any of the changes in §13107 effected by legislation relating to judicial offices, only, that went into effect on Jan. 1, 2018. Huerta’s writ petition did.
The county Registrar Recorder’s Office had disallowed her first choice for a designation—Deputy District Attorney, County of Los Angeles”—while approving it for Hammond and another candidate for Office No. 118, Keith Koyano. Huerta asserted that it was only fair that she have the same designation.
Reference to the county is required by §13107(b)(3)(B), a new provision, where an actual office title is used. That subdivision, Chalfant pointed out, applies only to current county employees.
Beckloff acted on a writ petition brought by voter Judy Ha, apparently acting on behalf of candidate Richard Kim. At issue was the meaning of city Charter §270 which provides:
“The City Attorney must be qualified to practice in all the courts of the state, and must have been so qualified for at least five years immediately preceding his or her election. The City Attorney shall devote his or her entire time to the duties of the office.”
Ha contended that Torres was not “qualified” to practice in courts of the state during that portion of the five-year period when she was an assistant U.S. attorney in the District of Columbia, on inactive bar status, thus not “qualified” to practice law in California courts.
“Voluntary inactive status does not inform on that attorney’s qualifications to practice law. The attorney remains a member of the State Bar and has met all of the qualifications necessary to practice law as a member of the State Bar. Voluntary inactive status dictates whether the attorney may actively engage in the practice of law—not whether the attorney is qualified to practice. Voluntary inactive status operates as a restriction on an attorney otherwise qualified to practice. The voluntarily inactive licensee is qualified to practice law but ineligible to do so.
“Voluntary inactive licensee status is controlled by the member of the State Bar; it does not inform on the member’s qualifications.”
He went on to say:
“There is a distinction between being qualified to practice law and being eligible to practice law. Active and inactive licensee status does not inform on an attorney’s qualification to practice law—it informs on whether a member of the State Bar may undertake to represent a client in the state.”
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