Pete Hardin can’t write about scandals involving his opponent District Attorney Todd Spitzer’s conduct on the ballot sent to voters this June, under a ruling from an Orange County judge on Friday against the challenger.
The ruling came after Hardin, a candidate for the District Attorney job in the June election, submitted his ballot statement going out to every voter where he repeatedly criticized the department as “plagued with scandals,” and sexual harassment issues.
Following that submission, Spitzer sued to block the statement from moving forward, quoting state law on ballot statements that said ballot statements “shall not in any way make reference to other candidates for that office or to another candidate’s qualifications, character or activities.”
George Yin, Hardin’s attorney, defended the statement in court on Friday morning, saying it never addressed Spitzer by name but referred to the District Attorney’s office failings that Hardin wanted to fix should he be elected.
“A candidate’s views on the issues does not constitute an attack on an opponent,” Yin said. “All these statements are demonstrably true.”
Mark Rosen, the attorney who argued on behalf of Spitzer, repeatedly called the ballot statement an attack, pointing out how an attack on the office of the District Attorney was the same as attacking the sitting DA.
“The statement was written to mislead the voters,” Rosen said. “It’s an attack on Mr. Spitzer’s character, an attack on his activities as DA, it’s (Hardin’s) intention to do that.”
Judge Nathan Scott ruled on the final case Friday, and added even before deliberations that he was already leaning Spitzer’s way before he ultimately ruled in the DA’s favor.
“When I read the case law…what I see is that a candidate statement is the place for a candidate to express their own views, their own ideas, their own platform and their own opinions and in doing so they can touch on general institutional figures and interests,” Scott said. “But what a candidate cannot do in a candidate statement is comment on an opponent, attack an opponent, make a direct criticism of an opponent.”
Scott also added his decision could have been different if Spitzer were not an incumbent, but his position as the head of the office made it a more clear cut decision.
“In this case the district attorney is one of candidate Hardin’s opponents, so even if the candidate statement does not mention the name of the incumbent district attorney, candidate Hardin cannot comment or attack the incumbent district attorney,” Scott said.
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.
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