Orange County Board of Education Trustee Beckie Gomez might be sued by one of her constituents for holding two elected offices at the same time – something her colleague Tim Shaw recently faced.
The legal complaint, brought by Santa Ana resident Mike Tardif, alleges that Gomez’s positions on both the Tustin City Council and the Board of Education are conflicting positions because their jurisdictions overlap.
The lawsuit is under a special action called quo warranto, which specifically challenges a person’s right to hold office.
In order for it to proceed, the state Attorney General’s office has to approve the suit, and can then either fight the action itself or let a private party act on its behalf.
If Gomez chooses to fight the suit, she’d have to pay for the legal defense out of her own pocket or resign from either the board or her seat on the Tustin City Council to nullify the challenge.
Gomez did not return requests to comment from Voice of OC on Wednesday morning.
If Gomez chooses to leave behind either panel, they’ll have to either appoint a replacement for her who will serve until the next election, or call for a special election.
Most city councils and regional boards say special elections are too expensive and fill vacancies through an appointment, despite waves of residents calling for elections.
The suit against Gomez is identical to a similar legal fight brought against fellow Trustee Shaw last year.
Shaw was initially sued by Melissa Louden, one of the leaders of the North Orange County Democrats club, alleging that his position on both the La Habra City Council and the board of education created a conflict of interest since the two districts overlapped.
When Shaw was initially sued, he pushed back against the assertion he’d violated ethical rules, adding that the two roles had never overlapped.
“They’re arguing as long as we can dream up a hypothetical, no matter how remote the possibility of that event ever happening, if they can dream it up that’s enough I should be forced off one of the offices,” Shaw said when asked about the issue in November.
Shaw ultimately resigned his seat on the board of education, but returned later that year when he was appointed to the seat following his resignation from the La Habra City Council, which prompted another legal challenge.
But even if Tardif is granted the right to sue, it’s still an open question of whether or not he’d win.
While the suit against Shaw was cleared to move forward, he resigned before it could ever go to court to avoid any legal penalties or fees.
The board of education and its members have been caught in an array of litigation on a variety of issues over the past year, walking away with a victory earlier this week when an OC Superior Court judge tentatively ruled that Shaw’s reappointment to the board at the end of last year was allowed.
But last week, the board lost a major legal fight when a separate OC Superior Court judge ruled the board would have to use an election map drawn by the Orange County Committee on School District Organization, a group made up of appointees from different school districts throughout the county who are required to review new school district maps.
While the board of education tried to argue it’s not a school district because it didn’t directly manage any public schools, the judge said the board lost because they failed to show how they held the power to overrule the committee under state law.
Mari Barke, the president of the board, vowed they would continue to argue their case, but any changes to the map would come after the 2022 election.
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.
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