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A judge says Orange City Councilman Mike Alvarez — who ran for and won a third term in office despite the city’s two-term limit — isn’t eligible for his seat and must vacate it if he doesn’t file an appeal within 10 business days.
It comes after a lawsuit against Alvarez over the legality of his election by Michael McIsaac — who has declined to be interviewed but is identified as an Orange resident by local news site Foothills Sentry — and unsuccessful 2020 council candidate John Russo.
The two lawsuits are separate but were “put on the same track” as they followed the same lines and legal arguments, said McIsaac’s attorney, Gary Winuk.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Nathan Scott first ruled in favor of McIsaac and Russo on Feb. 4, holding that Alvarez wasn’t eligible to run for the seat in 2020.
Scott formally adopted the plaintiffs’ proposed judgement on Wednesday, according to Winuk and Alvarez’s attorney, Mark Rosen.
Alvarez declined to comment for this story.
Rosen said “we haven’t decided” when asked on Wednesday whether Alvarez would indeed file an appeal.
Winuk said Alvarez has until March 8 to file an appeal, as he and Rosen note the 10-day period ends on the weekend, lest he vacate his seat and the council must find a replacement.
Alvarez first raised eyebrows when he threw his hat into the ring for the 2020 City Council elections — despite already serving two back-to-back terms on the council, which is the limit under the city’s elections policies.
But Alvarez and his attorney pointed to the city’s recent switch from at-large elections to district elections, which they argued essentially made Alvarez’s seat a brand new seat now that it exclusively represented a certain section of the city.
Winuk on Wednesday said there’s a “bigger picture to this case too.”
It all came about, Winuk notes, because Orange — like other cities up and down the state — faced a legal challenge under the California Voting Rights Act prompting the city to switch to district elections.
That legal challenge was launched by attorney Kevin Shenkman, who has sued a number of cities across Orange County over the same issue. Shenkman at the time criticized Alvarez’s argument for running again based on the city’s voting lawsuit.
“To my knowledge this is the first test as to whether that would impact a city with term limits already in place,” Winuk said. “This could have some bearing or weight on the precedent for other similarly situated cities.”
The questions over Alvarez’s eligibility were raised before the election, though officials in Orange apparently had no objection to Alvarez’s reelection bid as he appeared on the official ballot.
At the time, they offered no comment when Voice of OC sought a clear answer.
Scott first ruled in favor of McIsaac and Russo on Feb. 4, in a ruling that essentially stated Alvarez wasn’t eligible to run for the seat in 2020. At the time, it was unclear what the ruling’s legal effects would be until all parties in the case convened for another hearing on Feb. 24.
Alvarez won his District 3 seat in November with 50% of the vote, behind him was Russo with 26% of the vote.
Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member at Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @photherecord.