Report From Court by Flo Martin

March 28, 2012

A good-sized group of CM4RG showed up on March 27th at the Superior Court in Santa Ana in support of John Stephens and Katrina Foley and another attorney, who were accepted to “intervene” in the City of Costa Mesa’s move to get their proposed charter on the June ballot, even though the city’s clerk missed the filing deadline set by law

The law firm Jones-Day, representing Costa Mesa, was requesting that Judge Miller issue a judicial mandate to force the OC Registrar of Voters to place the charter on the June ballot, even though the City was out of compliance with county election law.

Judge Miller, after hearing arguments for over an hour, denied Costa Mesa’s request. The judge ruled that the court has no authority to order the Registrar to bypass the filing deadline.

Richard Grabowski, of the Jones Day firm, speaking on behalf of the Costa Mesa City Council, stated that he was representing “the majority of the citizens of Costa Mesa.”

Judge Miller disagreed with Grabowski, who he said was confusing the citizens of Costa Mesa with its City Council. Grabowski responded that he saw no distinction. A little humor ensued:

“Oh, I do, [see the distinction]” Miller retorted. “That’s why sometimes City Council majorities turn into minorities.” CM4RG present in the courtroom were grinning from ear to ear at that point.

Grabowski then continued with an attack on Julie Folcik, Costa Mesa City Clerk. Ms. Folcik, in his opinion, acted with “negligence” and “failed miserably” in regards to the late filing.

Foley and Stephens countered that the City Council was wrong to lay the blame of their missed deadline on the City Clerk.

“The city is throwing its clerk under the bus in one of the most cowardly moves I’ve seen as a litigator,” said Stephens. John also said he saw Jim Righeimer actually signing and submitting paperwork for the charter in the City Hall on the day it was due in the Registrar of Voters offices.

“For him to blame it on Julie Folcik,” Stephens said, “is despicable.”

A horrible moment followed! In a rebuttal, Jones Day attorney Grabowski argued that Foley, Stephens and other charter opponents don’t even want the charter vote to take place.

“They are the forces of anti-democracy, frankly.” Incredible! Stephens and most of the spectators gasped and even booed, Katrina couldn’t stop shaking her head in disbelief. Judge Miller admonished the courtroom crowd, indicating that his was a courtroom and not a city council chambers. Stephens immediately apologized for his boos, but said, “To be accused of something like that is repugnant.”

Considering the late hour, Judge Miller moved to focus on whether the County Registrar was actually required to accept the late filings and simply refused to do so. Only in that situation could the court intervene with a mandate.

Katrina Foley then argued that Orange County Registrar Neal Kelley, the county’s top elections official, “does not have any discretion to accept a late filing…No discretion, no mandamus.”

After some slow and thoughtful explanation, Judge Miller agreed with Foley and ruled that the court, indeed, did not have the authority to require the County Registrar to accept Costa Mesa’s late filings. End of story… (or is it?)

Flo Martin is a Costa Mesa resident.

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