Judge Reverses Ruling; Candidate May Use ‘Chavez’

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In a reversal of his earlier tentative ruling, an Orange County Superior Court judge ruled Tuesday afternoon that Anaheim City Council candidate Steven Lodge could use his birth surname of “Chavez” on the November ballot.

The judge ruled, however, that Lodge must also has to use his middle name, “Albert.” His name on the ballot will read: Steven Albert Chavez Lodge.

Judge Charles Margines also ruled that the ballot may not describe Lodge as a “retired policeman” because he still has a full-time job and therefore is not retired.

Margines said one reason he reversed his ruling is because he remembers, after Lodge’s attorney Steve Baric reminded him, that Lodge had used “Chavez” when testifying before Margines as a police officer. Margines’ tentative ruling had said that the “overwhelming evidence” suggested that Lodge had only adopted the name “Chavez” recently.

Anaheim City Hall watcher Cynthia Ward last month filed suit against Lodge’s use of his Spanish surname, arguing that it was adopted purely for political gain. The name would likely be more appealing to the city’s Latinos, which constitute more than 50 percent of the city’s population.

Lodge, who said he moved to the city nearly four years ago, argued that he is known in the community as “Chavez” and that the name is on his birth certificate. As a boy, Lodge adopted his stepfather’s name when his mother remarried. However, Lodge asserted in court documents, he never had the name legally changed.

Lodge was emotional immediately after the ruling. His voice quavering, the candidate said he was remembering his late father, Arthur Chavez, who was half Spanish and half Navajo Indian.

“Your name is very personal,” Lodge said, adding that he felt “vindicated” in being able to use his own name.

Regarding the “retired policeman” designation, Margines ruled that Lodge cannot say he is a retired policeman because he is the director of public affairs for Hill International, a construction company, and therefore not retired.

News of the lawsuit drew strong reaction from both sides of the debate and on local political blogs. Lodge blasted Ward in bulk emails. He claimed that the “housewife and mother” couldn’t afford to pay for the lawsuit and alleged that a secret donor funded it. Much of the speculation has assumed labor groups are the funders.

But beyond the court battle is the underlying complexity in defining the identities of people of mixed heritage. Lodge, whose mother is of German heritage, considers himself Hispanic, despite acknowledging that he speaks only “low-level, conversational Spanish.”

“Am I supposed to look a certain way to be Hispanic?” Lodge asked.

This debate is significant because the American Civil Liberties Union has sued the city, arguing that the at-large city council elections prevent Latinos from fielding a successful candidate.

None of the current council members are Latino, with the only possible exception being Councilwoman Lorri Galloway, who claims to be half Latina because of her father’s Spanish heritage. An ACLU lawyer said that being Spanish doesn’t count as representing a population with largely Mexican roots.

Although she made a point of saying she respects Margines’ decision, Ward said she is glad she filed the suit. “If I hadn’t done it, I would have lived with the regret of knowing what the truth is.”

Lodge said the accusation that adopting the name Chavez was merely a ploy to win Latino votes was “insulting to Hispanics,” saying that “if you’re Hispanic, how could you be playing to other Hispanics?”

OC Weekly’s Gustavo Arellano meanwhile, reported Tuesday morning that Lodge has been the target of multiple lawsuits alleging excessive force while Lodge was an officer with the Santa Ana Police Department. In a successful case, Lodge was found to have beaten a jaywalker with a baton, resulting in a head injury that required eight stitches, Arellano reported.

The candidate said that for police officers, those kinds of lawsuits are bound to occur. “When you can’t put handcuffs on someone who doesn’t want them, you have to chase them down and fight them,” he said.

Lodge is one of nine candidates vying for two open City Council seats vacated by council members Harry Sidhu and Lorri Galloway, both of whom are termed out. Lodge and Jordan Brandman, an Anaheim Unified School District trustee, are backed and funded by former Mayor Curt Pringle and others in the city’s business establishment.

Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at aelmahrek@voiceofoc.org and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/adamelmahrek.

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