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Lenore Albert-Sheridan, a Huntington Beach attorney currently suspended by the California State Bar, will be on the June primary election ballot as a candidate for Orange County district attorney, after a judge ruled it’s too early to say she won’t be qualified at the time of the election.
Two attorneys representing Anaheim resident Mark Daniels said they will pursue an expedited appeal of the ruling, and hope for an answer by April 13, the deadline for the county Registrar of Voters to begin printing ballots.
Albert-Sheridan, a Democrat, was suspended by the State Bar effective February 14 for a minimum of 30 days and until she pays sanctions and provided she follow the rules of her suspension. As of Tuesday morning, the State Bar website still listed Albert-Sheridan as suspended.
Candidates for district attorney must be “eligible to practice in the Supreme Court of the State,” according to the Registrar of Voters’ website, or in other words, have a license to practice law.
Attorney Lee Fink argued at an April 6 court hearing it is unlikely Albert-Sheridan’s suspension will end in time for the election. He said she has continued to practice law while her license is suspended and is likely to face additional discipline, if not disbarment.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Craig Griffin ruled it’s entirely within Albert-Sheridan’s control to pay her fines and end her suspension before the June 5 primary election.
When Albert-Sheridan filed her declaration of candidacy, she was required to sign a statement attesting she currently meets the qualifications to run for office. That appears to conflict, Griffin writes in his opinion, with another section of the state elections code which requires “if elected, the candidate will qualify for the office,” suggesting the candidate only needs to be qualified by the time they take office.
Given those conflicting statements, Griffin looked to case law. He cited two court cases in his ruling which suggest “where a candidate not presently qualified can become so by the mere passage of time or by action on matters entirely within the candidate’s control, any challenge to eligibility before the election is premature.”
If, at the time of the election, Albert-Sheridan still is not qualified, a separate court challenge can be filed within five days of the election, according to the ruling.
Griffin also ruled that, while Albert-Sheridan has continued to practice law during her suspension, it’s speculative at this point to consider how the State Bar will act on those violations.
Albert-Sheridan owes the State Bar at least $5,738 in sanctions in order for her suspension to be lifted, and more than $18,000 in other fees. She claims because she filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy in February, those debts will be discharged by the bankruptcy court and the State Bar can’t hold her license based on nonpayment.
At the April 6 court hearing, Albert-Sheridan said, as part of her bankruptcy plan, she has already made her first payment to the State Bar. She also claimed that “some kind of angel” recently deposited more than $18,000 into her account with the State Bar, disabling a button on the website that allows her to make further payments.
“The money is there,” Albert-Sheridan said.
A spokesman for the State Bar did not immediately return a request for comment about Albert-Sheridan’s debts.
Regardless of what the bankruptcy court decides, the amount of money Albert-Sheridan owes is not “insurmountable,” Griffin wrote in the ruling.
The judge granted a request to strike Albert-Sheridan’s ballot designation of “civil rights attorney” based on the state elections code, which clearly states that in order to claim a profession on the ballot, candidates must have an active professional license at the time of filing nomination papers.
Albert-Sheridan will appear on the ballot with no official designation, according to Neal Kelley, the Registrar of Voters.
Albert-Sheridan has argued the State Bar never properly notified her of the suspension, and because she allegedly never was given official notice of her probation, the suspension never commenced.
Griffin rejected that argument, writing that despite her “professed ignorance,” it’s clear the suspension became effective in February.
Reached Friday after the ruling was issued, Albert-Sheridan declined to comment. She later emailed a statement to Voice of OC celebrating the judge’s ruling.
“Being vindicated from the barrage of unfounded and scandalous public accusations has lifted a great weight off my shoulders, so now I can concentrate on the race again,” said Albert-Sheridan.
Attorney Greg Diamond said he will pursue an expedited review from the Fourth District Court of Appeal.
“We will now ask the appellate court to remove her from the ballot in order to prevent voter confusion – indeed, to prevent a fraud on the good voters of this county who would want and expect their vote to go toward a candidate eligible to serve,” Diamond wrote in a text message to a reporter.
Fink, the other attorney for Daniels, is a lawyer at the Orange County Employees Retirement System (OCERS). Fink said he took a vacation day on April 6 to represent Daniels in court.
Meanwhile, a separate court challenge to the candidate statement for Todd Spitzer, a county supervisor and Republican candidate for district attorney, ended in a settlement last week.
As part of the voluntary settlement, Spitzer will change his candidate statement, which previously stated “I’ve chaired 100 trials with a 100% conviction rate,” to read “I’ve chaired 122 trials with a 92% conviction rate.”
The other two candidates for district attorney are incumbent District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, a Republican, and attorney Brett Murdock, a Democrat.
Contact Thy Vo at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.
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