PRESS RELEASE #249, FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 22, 2012
CONTACT: James Markman, Brea City Attorney, (714) 990-0901; Cindie Ryan, Public Information Officer, (714) 990-7673
SUBJECT: Orange County Superior Court Denies Motion in Continuing Vargas Lawsuit; Expenses for Brea Mount
BREA, Calif. – On Friday, October 19, a judge denied the motion for a new trial in a continuing lawsuit by plaintiff Steve Vargas against the Brea City Clerk, the City of Brea and the Orange County Registrar of Voters. Costs to the City of Brea are approaching $80,000 in this matter.
Vargas’ lawsuit was initially filed on July 23, 2012, claiming that parties erroneously represented that the Brea City Council is in opposition to ballot Measures T and U by virtue of how signatures were listed on the required county form. Judgment was officially entered on September 13 by Orange County Superior Court Judge Robert J. Moss stating that the relief sought by the petitioner “…would be deceptive and this court will not participate in that deception.”
The plaintiff responded by entering a motion for a new trial, which now has also been denied. Following this latest ruling, Vargas’ lawyer requested the Court to produce a Statement of Decision. In turn, the Court has asked the City’s trial team to prepare that document. The City will comply and incur additional legal expenses to do so.
The judgment by Orange County Superior Court was the result of an August 28, 2012 hearing in which the Court found that the Brea City Council intended to submit a ballot opinion through two of its members, Mayor Don Schweitzer and Mayor Pro Tem Brett Murdock. The disputed ballot measures, authored by Brea resident Glenn Vodhanel, are two initiatives that will be on the November 6 ballot. Mr. Vodhanel filed a declaration in support of the Vargas lawsuit.
A minute order, dated August 29, 2012 states: “While the Election Code requires the name of an organization submitting a ballot argument to be on the submission form, the signature form itself did not provide a space for this. Thus, it is understandable why the City Council’s name was left off the submission form. However, to allow this technical error to prevent the ballot argument from identifying the Council as an opponent to the measure would mislead the voting public. The Council does oppose the measure and directed two of its members to submit an argument on the Council’s behalf. To list just the two members of the Council as proponents of the argument would be deceptive and this court will not participate in that deception.”
The minute order granted a portion of the petition ordering that the signature designation should be “…supplemented with ‘Brett Murdock, Mayor Pro Tempore,” beneath Mayor Schweitzer’s name.”
On August 31, 2012, attorney Edward M. Teyssier, on behalf of petitioner Steve Vargas, appealed the court’s decision, which was denied the following week by the appellate court. On September 24, Vargas filed another motion for a new trial and his attorney stated that they intend to appeal the judgment.
The City Council adopted resolutions authorizing the Council to file arguments in opposition to ballot measures T & U. When Mayor Schweitzer filed the arguments and rebuttals, he did so using a form supplied by the Registrar of Voters, which did not provide space for filing arguments on behalf of a body, or organization. Consequently, the arguments were signed by the Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem without stating: “on behalf of the Brea City Council.” When the ballot materials were submitted to the County Registrar, the City Clerk, working with the County officials, clarified that the opposition arguments should be attributed to the City Council.
Vargas then filed the July 23 lawsuit claiming the signature omission of “on behalf of the Brea City Council,” could not be corrected by the City Clerk and that since the submission deadline had passed, the signature block could not be corrected.
The City of Brea opposed the lawsuit through Richards, Watson and Gershon law offices, feeling it was paramount that the voting public understands that the Election Code required the Council to file opposition arguments and the Council clearly intended to do so as expressed by motions made at a special public meeting. The Court agreed with the City’s position and entered a final judgment (September 13, 2012) in accordance with its minute order. The ballot materials have been printed so the case now is moot.