Thursday, August 1, 2002
Lawyers Argue Over Ballot Typeface Rules in Latest South Gate Case
By ROBERT GREENE, Staff Writer
The long-stalled drive to recall four elected officials in the embattled city of South Gate returned on Tuesday to the Court of Appeal, where justices appeared unwilling to find that proponents complied with the letter of the law in preparing their petitions.
Presiding Justice Candace Cooper of this district’s Div. Eight let recall proponents’ counsel Stephen Kaufman know that she and her colleagues weren’t buying his argument that the Elections Code allows pro and con statements on petitions to be in different typefaces.
“Counsel, I think we understood your argument,” Cooper told Kaufman. “I think it would be in your best interest to move on.”
But the justices were more open to the argument that the papers substantially complied with the Elections Code and were in good enough shape that a recall vote could go forward.
The obscure issue—whether recall petitions were invalid from the start because the proponents’ argument is in bold type while the targets’ response is in mixed standard and bold—is the latest twist in an intense political feud in the small city southeast of downtown Los Angeles.
Recall petitions naming the three-member majority of the South Gate city council and the city’s widely perceived political boss, Treasurer Albert Robles, were due at city offices in March. But they are instead locked, uncounted, in an Office of the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/Clerk in the wake of lawsuits that have effectively ground the process to a halt.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Dzintra Janavs on March 15 permitted the proponents to proceed with filing their papers with city election officials.
But a month earlier the council had stripped the elected city clerk of her duties and passed a new law vesting authority in attorney Julia Sylva. Under an agreement with Secretary of State Bill Jones, who has voiced concern over the integrity of South Gate’s elections, the county registrar took possession of the petitions and agreed to allow Sylva to review them—in county offices—to determine whether they met the requirements of the state Elections Code.
But the recall targets meanwhile appealed Janavs’ ruling, invoking an automatic stay. The Court of Appeal in April ordered that the stay remain in place pending its decision.
The fight to recall Robles, Mayor Xochilt Ruvalcaba, Vice Mayor Raul Moriel and Councilwoman Maria Benavides focuses on accusations of corruption, cronyism and violence.
The targets note that the chief recall proponent, Joseph Ruiz, began his drive shortly after Robles defeated him for treasurer. Proponents point out that Robles has been charged with making threats of violence against public officials and that since his arrest earlier this year he has been hired by the council majority as the deputy city manager.
Cooper cautioned the bevy of lawyers lining up Tuesday to keep on the topic of typefaces and the Elections Code.
“I know that are other issues,” Cooper said. “I read the newspapers like everyone else.”
The recall arguments are printed all in bold type. The targeted officials submitted responses in mostly plain type, with some words bolded for emphasis. Before her duties were taken away, City Clerk Carmen Avalos approved the petitions as to form but later purported to rescind her approval—after the 10-day approval period expired. The rescission was not based on the typeface issue.
Arguing Tuesday for the target officials was attorney Edward J. Horowitz who, after some probing questions from Cooper and Justices Laurence Rubin and Paul Boland, agreed that the proper standard is whether the petitions substantially complied with an Elections Code provision that their language is to be of uniform size and darkness.
But Horowitz seemed reluctant to let go of his argument that even the smallest deviation would render the petitions invalid.
“There is no need for the courts to get involved [with the question of substantial compliance] when the requirements are so easy,” Horowitz said.
Attorney Mitchell Tilner, arguing for Sylva, argued for an absolute compliance standard.
Kaufman argued that the uniformity requirement of the Elections Code does not apply to the pro and con arguments at all but to uniformity among different petitions circulated to different parts of the city. But if substantial compliance was to be the standard, he said, “The voters received all the information they needed and in fact received it in the exact form that the [parties] wanted them to receive it.”
Deputy Attorney General Susan Oie, arguing for Jones as amicus, said there was no manipulation of voters in the South Gate matter and asserted that, in any event, the targets’ response “just doesn’t say anything.”
Don Johnson, representing Avalos, agreed with Kaufman and Oie.
“The target officials got exactly what they asked for,” Johnson said.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company