Tuesday, October 8, 2002
Lawyers Continue Battle Over South Gate Vote as Election Workers Verify Recall Petitions
By a MetNews Staff Writer
County workers have begun the long-delayed review of recall petitions targeting four South Gate elected officials, but a lawyer for the small city’s own elections officer said yesterday that he has asked the state Supreme Court to put a stop to the process.
Attorney Mitchell Tilner of the firm of Horvitz & Levy, representing South Gate elections official Julia Sylva, said he requested a writ of mandate Friday to block the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder’s Office from verifying and tabulating signatures on the recall documents.
Recall proponents circulated those petitions nearly a year ago, but the documents immediately became the subject of legal battles and sat in a locked room by court order since March. County elections workers finally began their review last week after an appeals court lifted the order Sept. 30, registrar-recorder spokeswoman Marcia Ventura said.
It was the recall proponents’ third straight procedural victory in their long-running bid to oust city Treasurer Albert Robles, Mayor Xochilt Ruvalcaba, Vice Mayor Raul Moriel and Councilwoman Maria Benavides.
In August, Gov. Gray Davis signed a bill compelling South Gate to give up control of recalls and other special elections to the county. The move culminated months of turmoil in which city officials branded the recall papers invalid, fired the elected city clerk, appointed a new elections official and fought continued recall efforts by arguing that the typeface used on portions of the petitions was improper.
On Sept. 19, this district’s Court of Appeal ruled that the petitions were valid, but the stay on verifying the signatures remained in effect until last week, when the same court lifted the order at the request of recall proponents’ attorney Stephen Kaufman of Smith Kaufman.
Tilner said he asked the Supreme Court to “immediately stop the registrar, so as not to moot the appeal.”
He said he and his clients will seek Supreme Court review of the underlying appeals court ruling and will also ask the appeals court to reverse itself.
The signatures must be verified in order for dates to be set for a recall election. Barring further legal wrangling, a recall will likely be set for early next year, when two of the targeted officials will be up for re-election.
The battle over South Gate has kept the Los Angeles Superior Court busy over the last year.
Robles, the council majority and the city sued to block the recall, but Judge Dzintra Janavs ruled in March that there was no problem with the petitions. But the recall targets walked away with a key victory when Janavs ordered, and the Court of Appeal maintained, a stay on tabulating the petitions intact pending appeal.
Meanwhile, when Robles was arrested on charges of making death threats against elected officials, the council voted to pay for his criminal defense—leading some residents to seek court review. Judge David Yaffe last week extended his earlier ruling barring the use of city funds for Robles.
In August, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge John A. Torribio issued an order barring Robles from entering South Gate police headquarters, where one of the alleged targets of Robles’ threats works.
In April, two of the council members named in the recall attempt won temporary restraining orders blocking seven of their city’s residents from coming near them. That set off more court battles, as the residents attempted to get the action leading to the TRO thrown out as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company