Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Wednesday, April 16, 2003


Page 1


C.A. Upholds Eligibility Requirements for Sheriff Candidates


By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts


A California statute establishing minimum training, education, and experience requirements for sheriff candidates is constitutional, the Sixth District Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.

The justices affirmed Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Joseph Biafore’s ruling upholding Government Code Sec. 24004.3.

The statute requires every candidate for sheriff to have an advanced certificate issued by the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training, and at least a high school diploma. It also requires between one and four years of salaried, full-time law enforcement experience, depending on what type of college degree, if any, the candidate holds.

The statute was challenged by Alexander Rawls, a Palo Alto carpenter and Stanford University graduate student, who was knocked off the ballot by a court order in 1998 because he lacked the statutory qualifications. He tried again last year, seeking a declaratory judgment and writ of mandate after he was denied the right to become a write-in candidate for the post.

Rawls said he wanted to run as an advocate of gun owners’ rights, advocating that every applicant who meets the minimum legal requirements be issued a concealed weapons permit. He criticized Sheriff Laurie Smith, saying she denied virtually all concealed weapons permit applications under the broad discretion given sheriffs under California law.

Free Speech

Rawls, representing himself, argued that Sec. 24004.3 violates his rights to free speech and equal protection under the state and federal constitutions. He contended that civilians tend to favor broad issuance of concealed weapons permits, and that law enforcement officials tend to oppose them, so requiring that all candidates for sheriff have law enforcement experience discriminates against the “civilian” viewpoint.

Justice Eugene Premo, however, who authored the Court of Appeal’s decision, derided the plaintiff’s argument as “amorphous political rhetoric.” Rawls admitted that it was “possible for members of law enforcement to share the civilian tendency to be in favor of gun rights,” the justice noted, so all he had to do to have his voice heard to support “qualified candidates for sheriff that advance the ‘civilian’ viewpoint.”

Premo explained that when a law burdens the right to run for public office, courts must engage in a balancing test under the First Amendment, weighing the effect of the restriction against the public interest that it purports to serve.

Not Overly Burdensome

Here, the jurist reasoned, the restriction is not overly burdensome because it allows a broad range of persons to run. “The section does not stifle speech or dictate electoral outcome in any sense,” Premo wrote, adding that the plaintiff had conceded the state has a compelling interest in having sheriffs with law enforcement backgrounds.

If, as Rawls asserted, the state also has an interest in allowing civilians to run for sheriff, the plaintiff’s remedy lies with the Legislature, Premo said.

Sec. 24004.3 has been an issue in Los Angeles County elections as well.

Two potential challengers to the late Sheriff Sherman Block withdrew in 1994, rather than challenge the law, after being informed by county lawyers that they lacked the statutory qualifications. Block easily defeated the five opponents who qualified.

The case is Rawls v. Zamora, 03 S.O.S. 1889.


Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company