Wednesday, January 15, 2003
Lockyer Grants Critics Leave to Challenge Orange County’s New Charter
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
Opponents of the charter enacted by Orange County voters last March may sue in quo warranto to have the enactment invalidated, Attorney General Bill Lockyer has concluded.
In an opinion made public yesterday, the attorney general said the anti-charter forces had raised three “substantial issues of law and fact” for which leave to sue has been granted.
The challengers who sought leave have already brought an action to invalidate the charter, which is scheduled for trial before Orange Superior Court Judge Andrew Banks next week. The attorney general’s action could add to their legal arsenal, placing in doubt the validity of a special election to fill a vacancy on the Board of Supervisors, scheduled for Jan. 28.
Attorneys for the two sides could not be reached late yesterday for comment, but supporters and opponents of the charter agree that the sole reason for its adoption was to empower voters to fill board vacancies by special election. Only charter counties are permitted to do that; general law counties, such as Orange was before the March vote, have their vacancies filled by appointment of the governor.
Five candidates are running in the Jan. 28 election to succeed Todd Spitzer, who won election to the state Assembly in November.
The challengers claim that Measure V is defective in that it fails to contain the necessary elements of a charter under the state Constitution, including a specification of the number of supervisors, as well as specification of the powers of other county officers and whether those officers shall be elected or appointed, the length of their terms, and how they shall be compensated and how they can be removed from office.
The county claims that it has provided for the “critical aspects of county government” by incorporating the entire California Constitution and all of the general laws of the state. The conflict must be resolved by the court, Lockyer said in his opinion, prepared by Deputy Attorney General David M. Verhey.
Banks, in pretrial hearings, has expressed misgivings about the county’s position, the Orange County Register reported. By deferring to future changes in state law, without giving local voters a say, the charter “totally eviscerates the concept of home rule,’’ the newspaper quoted Banks as saying.
Banks also expressed concern at a hearing Monday that the enactment of the charter, l may have inadvertently eliminated term limits for supervisors, another subject of which the charter makes no specific mention. The term limits which voters approved in 1996 were authorized by a general law provision that appears not to apply to charter counties, Banks was reported as saying, a position with which the county disagrees.
Other issues on which charter opponents were granted leave to sue are whether the ballot materials accompanying Measure V were misleading in failing to inform voters of the fundamental nature of the change from general law to charter county status, and whether the county’s failure to prepare a fiscal impact statement for the charter was an abuse of discretion.
The opinion is No. 02-1103.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company