Judge Craig Griffin Kicks Can on Jessie Lopez Recall

Well, Councilman David Penaloza did say, “Let a judge decide,” while voting to proceed full steam ahead with the flawed recall election of his colleague Jessie Lopez. And this morning he’s gotten his wish, except there are still no definitive answers. Judge Craig Griffin just COULDN’T decide at this point, this being unprecedented, and lots of people liable to be “disenfranchised” no matter what he finally decides January 12.

Santa Ana voter Guadalupe Ocampo, who is now a Ward 6 resident but at the time of Jessie’s 2020 election (before redistricting) was a voter in Ward 3, was one of the 1,186 voters who SHOULD have got ballots for this recall and DIDN’T, and yesterday she sued for an injunction to stop this recall in which she and her neighbors are being deprived of the legal right to vote. (And of course, if the courts agree with the ROV that the pre-redistricting map is the one that should have been used, that means the recall fell 200-something signatures short of what they needed to qualify this damn thing.) But the cautious Griffin feels he must do a lot more research before making any decision.

Plaintiff Ocampo had a secondary request – that if Griffin wouldn’t just cancel the election, he should at least order ballots to be sent to her and her 1185 neighbors so they could have a vote on this thing – something the ROV confirmed they could accomplish within a day. (There is only a week left till election day.) Griffin felt this would be WAY too last-minute. (But why not postpone the Nov. 14 election day?) “They’ve received no campaign material, they don’t know enough about this election.” Ocampo’s counsel, Gary Winuk, aptly retorted “Voters have a right to vote, not a right to receive mailers.”

Participating in the hearing via Zoom were lawyers for Santa Ana AND the Registrar of Voters. Many of us were surprised and disappointed that the Registrar didn’t mention that he would be unable to certify the results when they’re concluded.

The Recall proponents’ counsel, unsurprisingly, was Mark Rosen, a former Garden Grove Councilman, conservative Democrat, and crack election lawyer who always seems to be the choice of anti-progressive forces. When discussing dates to come back and revisit this issue, he pointed out, “It’s very possible the recall will not succeed, and then this whole case will be moot!” True that, I guess, but what a waste this has been.

Two of Griffin’s better-known election decisions of recent years were:

  1. Forbidding candidate Vince Sarmiento from mentioning his endorsement by the DPOC for a race – Supervisor – that is supposed to be nonpartisan. Winner = Kim Bernice Nguyen!
  2. Allowing, against plaintiff Mark Daniels’ request, moonbat Lenore Albert to use “attorney” in her designation in a DA race when she’d been disbarred (or something?) to stay on the ballot for DA even though she’d used “attorney” as her designation when she’d been suspended. Winner – Moonbat!

Griffin is proud of doing his own research on important matters like this, not leaving it up to his clerks. An excellent place for him to start if he hasn’t – or at least for you and I to start – is THIS brand new piece by the excellent Jill Replogle of LAist– a new acquaintance of mine from whom I’ll proceed to quote liberally (but DO click on her story!).

LAist spoke with six outside election experts to get their opinions on the Santa Ana recall snafu, two of them county registrars of voters.

They told us:

  • Page, the O.C. registrar of voters, is right — there is a fundamental error in the Lopez recall election. The wrong district boundaries were used to calculate the number of signatures needed to trigger the recall and to determine who gets to vote.  
  • Nevertheless, California election law isn’t exactly straightforward on the subject. 

“I can certainly understand how mistakes are made because the law is not at all clear,” said Douglas Johnson, president of National Demographics Corporation, a company that assists local governments with redistricting.

The experts consulted by LAist agreed that California law and court precedent have established that elected officers are to represent the population that initially voted them into office. And, that the same population should get to decide whether to remove their representative from office…


What state election law says, and doesn’t say

When Santa Ana adopted its new district boundaries, the city council passed an ordinance stating the new boundaries would go into effect starting with the November 2022 general election “and subsequent elections thereafter.”

But that seems to contradict state law. California election code states that new city council districts will take effect at the first election following adoption of the new boundaries, “excluding a special election to fill a vacancy or a recall election.”

Johnson noted that the “excluding” subclause is key but easily ignored.

“It’s only a couple of throwaway words, but they have huge impact,” he said.

The California Secretary of State’s 2023 recall procedures guide says nothing specifically about how to handle a recall election after redistricting.

Johnson and Woocher said court precedent is much more decisive on the matter. Woocher noted a 2021 opinion from the California attorney general regarding a special election held after a San Luis Obispo County supervisor died during his term in office. The state attorney general determined that the district boundaries in place when the supervisor was elected, in 2020, should apply to the special election to fill his seat.

In a letter to Santa Ana’s City Clerk advising her of the mistaken boundaries in Lopez’s recall election, O.C. Registrar Page cited a different attorney general opinion, from 2014. That opinion suggested that a city council member was unlawfully appointed to serve out the term of his predecessor, who resigned, because the new member didn’t reside within the city council district boundaries that existed when the incumbent was elected.

But long story short, Judge Griffin felt he didn’t have enough time to make an “intelligent decision” on this flawed recall, so he’ll decide on the legitimacy of this election January 12, long after the votes are counted – awkward!

Till then, we KEEP FIGHTING!

About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official political troubadour of Anaheim and most other OC towns. Regularly makes solo performances, sometimes with his savage-jazz band The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at vernpnelson@gmail.com, or 714-235-VERN.