Friday, December 26, 2003
Judge Restores Congressional Hopeful to March Primary Ballot
Los Angeles County Registrar’s Action Based on Signature Insufficiency Overturned
By DAVID WATSON, Staff Writer
A Sacramento Superior Court judge on Wednesday ordered the name of a Pasadena lawyer to be placed on the March 2 primary ballot for Congress despite a ruling by elections officials that his nominating papers did not have 40 valid signatures.
Judge Gail D. Ohanesian granted a writ petition sought by Harry Frank Scolinos of Scolinos Sheldon & Nevell, who is seeking the Republican nomination to run against Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Pasadena. In a tentative ruling, Ohanesian said the county registrar of voters did not dispute Scolinos’ assertion that he was told when he dropped off his petition two days before the filing deadline that he would be “immediately notified” if there was a deficiency.
Ohanesian also noted that the registrar’s Web site and Candidate Handbook say a candidate who files early will be “immediately” notified of problems with the number of signatures and will be given an opportunity to obtain additional signatures.
Attempt to Correct Deficiency
“Petitioner turned in his signatures two days ahead of time,” Ohanesian wrote. “He attempted to correct the deficiencies in the signatures as soon as he was notified of them on December 9. Assuming that the supplemental signatures are valid, they should be accepted by respondent on the basis of equitable estoppel.”
Sacramento attorney Ben Davidian of Bell, McAndrews, Hiltachk & Davidian, who represented Scolinos, expressed satisfaction with the judge’s ruling.
“Equity mandated that this be done,” Davidian, a former chairman of the Fair Political Practices Commission, said.
Davidian noted that Schiff successfully sought to intervene in the action, calling it “bizarre” that the Democratic incumbent would involve himself in the issue of who might become the Republican nominee.
“This is a Republican fight,” Davidian commented, adding:
“One can draw one’s own conclusions, but I certainly think its an indication that he’s afraid of Mr. Scolinos,”
Schiff Called ‘Confident’
Los Angeles lawyer Stephen J. Kaufman of Smith Kaufman, who represented Schiff, challenged that view. Schiff, he said, is “confident that he will win” re-election no matter who the Republican candidate is.
Schiff “has an interest as a candidate in making sure that the rules of the game are applied equally to all candidates,” Kaufman said. Schiff was elected to Congress in 2000, defeating then-Rep. James Rogan, R-Glendale.
“From a legal standpoint, we were somewhat surprised that the judge allowed Mr. Scolinos to appear on the ballot given that he did not comply with the legal requirements,” Kaufman said. He attributed the outcome to the “unique circumstances” of the case, explaining that Solinos—described by Davidian as a “first time candidate” unfamiliar with election procedures—had been given “contradictory information” by elections officials.
Senior Deputy County Counsel Judy W. Whitehurst, who appeared at the hearing by telephone to represent the registrar, said she did not argue against granting the relief Scolinos sought but tried to make sure Ohanesian had all the facts.
“We don’t necessarily want to take a strong position one way or the other,” Whitehurst explained. She said “final checking” of the signatures was not completed until after the Dec. 5 deadline, but conceded some staff members in the registrar’s office were aware of potential problems with the signatures before that date.
Twelve of Scolinos’ signatures were ruled invalid, leaving him four signatures short of the 40 required.
Whitehurst described herself as “a little surprised” by Ohanesian’s ruling, “because I think the burden is on the candidate.” She said county officials might have to consider revising the booklet and Web site to avoid similar problems in the future.
“Obviously that’s something we’ll think about,” she commented.
In papers supporting his writ petition, Davidian cited the “Frequently Asked Questions” section of the Candidate Handbook, which warns of the consequences of submitting nomination papers which include signatures which do not belong to registered voters who live in the appropriate jurisdiction.
The section goes on to state:
“The candidate will be notified of any insufficiencies and may submit supplemental signatures on or before the deadline....However, if the candidate waited until the last day to file, there may not be time to obtain the signatures before the 5:00 p.m. close of the nomination period and, therefore, would not qualify as a candidate.”
The registrar’s Web site, Davidian’s memorandum of points and authorities notes, goes even further, declaring:
“The candidate will be notified immediately if there are any irregularities or if he or she is disqualified.”
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company