Appeals Court Says No to June Charter Election for Costa Mesa

Costa Mesa’s efforts to place a proposed city charter on the June ballot appeared to be exhausted late Monday after an appeals court turned down the city’s request to reverse a lower court’s ruling on the measure.

The latest decision by a panel of the 4th District Court of Appeal, confirms that the charter proposal rooted in Costa Mesa's long-running battle over outsourcing will not go before voters until November’s general election at the earliest.

“Victory!” said Katrina Foley, a Newport-Mesa school trustee in a phone interview Monday. Foley is a former City Council member who opposed the city’s charter efforts in court.

She that that the city's appeal “was dead on arrival, because the law was clear. And this is just another example of exorbitant legal fees wasting taxpayer dollars.”

The law firm Jones Day has been representing the city in the case at a cost of $495 per hour per attorney.

So far, the city has spent more than half a million dollars for Jones Day to conduct a series of outsourcing-related lawsuits. Today council members are expected to consider approving payment for more than $100,000 in legal fees from January during their monthly public meeting.

The city said late Monday afternoon that it wouldn’t comment because the court hadn’t yet informed it of the decision. The court’s website shows it made a final ruling against the city on Monday.

Costa Mesa filed the suit after its city clerk, Julie Folcik, missed the deadline for submitting official paperwork to hold the charter vote during June’s statewide primary election.

Superior Court Judge Franz Miller denied the city’s request last week, citing a lack of authority for the court to force election officials to ignore the state-mandated deadline. The city then appealed Miller’s decision, leading to Monday’s denial.

The day after Miller’s decision, the city clerk was suspended from work and placed under investigation for what city CEO Tom Hatch described as a “significant professional failure” to meet the deadline.

Emails obtained by the Daily Pilot and OC Register show that county election officials reminded Folcik of the deadline up until the day before.

While the city has placed responsibility for the mishap solely on Folcik, interviews show that City Attorney Tom Duarte was closely monitoring the submission of at least some of the election paperwork in the hours before the deadline.

Costa Mesa’s lawyers also declared in court papers that the error was an “inadvertent mistake” by Folcik brought on by a misunderstanding of the legal deadline and a “good faith belief” she was filing all of the documents on time.

The city has said it will not comment on the specifics of its investigation.

— NICK GERDA

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