An Orange County Superior Court Judge on Tuesday morning refused to halt Santa Ana’s police union-driven recall election of Councilmember Jessie Lopez, amidst 11th hour questions of whether proponents got enough signatures by using the city’s current electoral map instead of the one Lopez was elected under in 2020.
Instead, the issue is expected to be sorted out after the election, at a hearing scheduled for Jan. 12.
The request for a temporary restraining order was filed by Santa Ana resident Guadalupe Ocampo, who voted for Lopez in 2020 but alleges she now stands to be cut out of the Nov. 14 Lopez recall vote since she doesn’t live in the current boundaries.
There’s as many as 1,200 people in her situation.
For the first time since OC Registrar of Voters Bob Page advised Santa Ana leaders of the issues involved in the gathering of signatures for the recall, arguments were heard on both sides.
At Tuesday’s hearing, an attorney for the police union-sponsored recall committee said the City Clerk’s office was right to direct recall petitioners to use Lopez’s current ward boundaries.
“Because that’s what’s in Santa Ana’s law. And Santa Ana’s laws supersede any state statute to the contrary,” said recall committee attorney Mark Rosen on Tuesday.
Ocampo’s attorney, however, on Tuesday said the state elections code is clear that an elected official’s original electoral ward boundaries apply to recall elections – and that state elections code applies to recall elections under Santa Ana’s charter.
“Only the voters that put you in place can remove you from office, which is why the petition was insufficient,” said Ocampo’s attorney, Gary Winuk.
“And why the wrong electorate is voting.”
At Tuesday morning’s hearing, OC Superior Court Judge Craig L. Griffin said it was too late in the game to halt the recall election with ballots already mailed and the possibility that he might find the recall proponents’ procedures were sound.
Griffin said he needed more time to research the case, and that three things could come out of this:
“Number one: That they (recall organizers) did it just right and it’s not a problem. Number two: They did it wrong, but there was no time to challenge the certification and so it’s going to stand even if it’s wrong. Number three: It’s wrong in something that is so fundamental, it’s going to have to be thrown out.”
It comes after OC Registrar of Voters Bob Page, in late October, realized that there was uncertainty over which district map applied when recall proponents gathered signatures in the ward of Councilmember Jessie Lopez – a vocal police union critic – to prompt an election to unseat her.
In a letter last month, Page notified City Hall officials of the possible issue and requested direction.
City Council members, in a special meeting on Oct. 30, took no action after three police union-backed lawmakers argued against stopping the election.
The police union has spent more than $660,000 this year – as of Nov. 1 – on its campaign to unseat Lopez, according to newly released campaign finance disclosures, after Lopez voted against union pay raise demands last December.
The union’s campaign has been getting significant boosts from property owner and landlord advocacy groups who oppose Lopez over her vote in support of Santa Ana’s historic, 2021 citywide rent control law, most recently with a $100,000 contribution from the National Association of Realtors Fund.
The committee fighting Lopez’s recall has spent more than $123,000 this year as of Nov. 1, with $10,000 in independent spending support from a PAC run by the Latino organizing group Mijente, and $20,000 in spending from a PAC set up by the United Food and Commercial Workers.
“I gotta say it’s an interesting issue,” Griffin said at the hearing. “And I will say again, I have no idea. We’ll figure it out.”
Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC reporter. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @brandonphooo.
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