Tuesday, March 11, 2003
Court of Appeal Upholds Perrodin Victory Over Bradley in Compton
By ROBERT GREENE, Associate Editor
Compton Mayor Eric Perrodin was lawfully elected in June 2001 and should never have been bounced from office by a Los Angeles Superior Court judge, this district’s Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
Judge Judith Chirlin erred when she reversed the results of the city election that ousted two-term mayor Omar Bradley in favor of Perrodin, the appeals court ruled.
Chirlin sparked civic chaos in Compton with her ruling a year ago that in effect transferred 300 Perrodin votes to Bradley, allowing Bradley to return briefly to City Hall. The game of mayoral musical chairs continued a few days later when the Court of Appeal ordered Bradley back out and Perrodin back in pending review.
Even if the appeals court ruled the other way, Bradley may not have been able to return to City Hall this time. He and several other Compton officials were arrested earlier this month on charges of misusing city credit cards and other financial misconduct.
The arrests were the culmination of a probe by the District Attorney’s Office. Perrodin, incidentally, is a deputy district attorney.
The Court of Appeal yesterday also declared vacant a Compton City Council seat, upholding Chirlin’s decision to annul the election of Leslie Irving, but rejecting as well the election of Irving’s opponent, Melanie Andrews.
Key to both mayor and council decisions was application of an obscure elections law theory that holds that candidates listed on the ballot first automatically get a certain percentage of votes, and that any error in ballot order could consequently change the outcome.
Irving’s name was improperly listed first in the council runoff due to clerical error and she may have been the beneficiary of votes she would not otherwise have gotten. But the key to the difference in the outcome, the court ruled, is that she also was found to have participated in voting fraud.
Perrodin was listed first on the mayoral runoff ballot and beat Bradley by 281 votes. Chirlin based her ruling on testimony from an Ohio State University professor who calculated that Bradley would have gotten 306 of Perrodin’s votes had the ballot order been reversed.
In an opinion by Justice Reuben Ortega of Div. One, the Court of Appeal avoided ruling on the adequacy of the study by Professor Jon Krosnick, who applied a formula based on out-of-state elections to arrive at the 306 number. But Ortega said it was improper for Chirlin to rely exclusively on the so-called “primacy effect” to transfer votes, and rejected Bradley’s assertion that City Clerk Charles Davis conspired with Perrodin to deny Bradley the top spot on the ballot in the first place.
Davis properly used a State of California random alphabetical drawing to list Perrodin before Bradley in the primary race, and was within his rights to use the same drawing for the runoff since a runoff is essentially round two of the same election rather than a whole new election, Ortega said.
“As we understand the statutory scheme, a new randomized alphabet is not required for a runoff election with no new filing period or new candidates,” Ortega said. “As there was no new filing period for Compton’s June 5 runoff election, and only the top two contestants in the primary election were eligible to participate in the mayoral runoff election, we find the clerk had no statutory obligation to request a new randomized alphabet for the June 5 election. The statutory requirements for requesting [new] randomized alphabets simply do not fit the circumstances of this case.”
Matters were quite different in the Irving-Andrews race. There, evidence was presented to support claims that Irving had participated in fraud. Several witnesses who were not U.S. citizens testified that Irving tried to get them to vote.
“When an otherwise successful candidate such as Irving is subsequently found to have committed an offense or offenses against the elective franchise, her election may be annulled even if the number of unqualified voters she fraudulently registered or the number of votes she unlawfully solicited were too few to have changed the outcome of the election,” Ortega said.
But while Chirlin acted properly in annulling Irving’s victory, the justice said, she erred in declaring Andrews the winner despite her failure to win the highest number of legal votes.
“[I]n a ruling unprecedented, to our knowledge, in this country, the trial court shifted 295 legal votes from Irving to Andrews based solely on the 3.32% primacy effect assumed to be enjoyed, on average, by those listed first on the ballot,” Ortega said. “While many courts and legislatures have recognized the advantage afforded to candidates whose names are listed first on the ballot, no judicial or statutory authority exists to reverse the results of an election where, due to unintentional clerical error, the ballot listed the candidates in the wrong alphabetical order.”
Name-order error occurring in the absence of fraud is not a valid ground for an election contest under state law, the justice said. Just because 295 votes may have been cast for Irving just because she was listed first due to a mistake, that doesn’t mean those 295 votes are illegal, he said.
The case is Bradley v. Perrodin, B156528.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company