Editor’s Note: The trial was postponed Wednesday, and might not happen at all. Reyna initiated last-minute negotiations to strike a deal to avoid the trial. Click here to read about the postponement.
A two-day civil trial starts today on whether to remove Roman Reyna from the Santa Ana City Council and replace him with the only other person who ran in November’s open race for the Ward 4 council seat.
The opponent, Phil Bacerra, alleges in his lawsuit Reyna was not eligible for the seat because he was living outside the ward during a city-required residency period, and alleges Reyna falsified his address on his candidacy paperwork.
During the period Reyna was required to live in Ward 4 to be eligible to run for it, he was registered to vote at an address in Ward 6 and filed a Planning Commission application to the city where he listed the Ward 6 address as his residence, according to the suit.
When the city clerk texted Reyna to tell him the address was in Ward 6, Reyna replied “What,” “Can u send me Ward 4 boundary,” and “Yikes,” according to screenshots released by the city and attached to the lawsuit. He later submitted paperwork alleging he had been living at a Ward 4 address during that period, according to the suit.
Reyna, in a court filing, has disputed many of the lawsuit’s claims and said he lacks enough information to respond to others.
The outcome could affect the balance of power on the council, replacing a council member who ran against a police union-backed candidate with one who was supported by the police officers’ union.
The trial, before Superior Court Judge Craig L. Griffin in his Fullerton courtroom, is scheduled to end Thursday, with witnesses likely called to the stand to testify under oath. The judge’s decision could come in the days after the trial.
Santa Ana’s city charter requires candidates for a particular City Council ward to live in that district for 30 days before receiving nomination paperwork from the city.
In Reyna’s case, that was the 30 days between July 3 and Aug. 2, according to the lawsuit.
Attorneys for the city argued the city charter establishes it’s up to the City Council, not the courts, to decide if council candidates are qualified to run.
But the judge said Santa Ana apparently has no process for actually deciding if a candidate is qualified, in contrast with a clear process for judges to follow under the state’s elections code.
“The Court is not shown where the City of Santa Ana has created procedures and a due process for an election contest for a city election,” Griffin wrote in his ruling last week.
“If it is within the sole [jurisdiction] of the local body, it is not shown that procedures have been established that govern the hearing of the matter, or that a due process has been created or has been followed in relation to the matter,” he continued.
“The Court concludes that it has jurisdiction to hear the matter. While deference could arise for the City of Santa Ana’s election contest procedures and proceedings, as required/appropriate under the law, there do not appear to be any such procedures in place, nor any proceedings commenced.”
At the time candidates filed for the City Council race, a majority of the City Council supported Reyna, and there were no known proceedings by the council on whether Reyna had actually lived outside the district.
In the 1982 primary election, Orange County Municipal Judge Joanne Harrold won against her two opponents, but in response to a civil case was removed from office after another judge ruled she had falsified her residency on her candidacy paperwork.
Harrold later faced criminal charges for allegedly making the false statements and backdating a house deed to show she lived in Newport Beach. About a decade later, in March 1992, she was convicted of at least one of the charges, though details weren’t immediately available Tuesday.
The civil trial on whether to remove Reyna is scheduled to start at 9 a.m. Wednesday and run the full day, resuming again at 1:30 p.m. Thursday for its final day. The case number is 30-2018-01035769-CU-PT-CJC.
Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at [email protected].