An Orange County Superior Court judge Friday denied a Huntington Beach resident’s request for more than $14,000 in legal fees incurred after the city filed a lawsuit intended to stop him from circulating a petition seeking to ban semiautomatic and automatic guns in the city.
Attorney Jerry Friedman had filed a request for $14,385 on behalf of Daniel Horgan for 46 hours of work in July.
Horgan’s proposed law would have made possession and sale of semiautomatic and automatic firearms in Huntington Beach a felony by April 1. He dropped his effort when the petition fell well short of the number of signatures needed to qualify for the November ballot.
In a tentative ruling published Thursday and made final Friday, Judge Robert Moss wrote that “a defendant to be awarded attorney’s fees must establish protected petitioning activity and that the plaintiff is unable to establish a reasonable probability of success.”
Moss wrote that Horgan, a real estate agent and mortgage broker, failed to show that the city’s filing for an injunction in April was “clearly frivolous, vexatious or brought primarily for purposes of harassment.” The city, Moss added, showed that Horgan’s initiative was “both constitutionally and statutorily invalid.”
Horgan said he is considering crafting another petition.
“The true purpose was to allow citizens to vote on the availability of these guns,” Horgan said. “[Guns] keep killing innocent people, and this issue isn’t going anywhere. We need to come together to find a solution to this problem.”
City Attorney Michael Gates called the ruling a win for Huntington Beach, adding that the fees, which he called “exorbitant,” would have been paid with taxpayer money.
“Mr. Friedman’s client’s proposed gun ban was illegal and unconstitutional from the very beginning, which required court intervention,” Gates said. “The city’s legal battle against allowing the gun ban to be placed on the November ballot was always about protecting the U.S. Constitution, the rights of the citizens of Huntington Beach and the city itself.”
But Friedman said the legal battle could have been avoided had the city been “proactive” when Horgan filed his notice of intent to circulate his petition last November.
“It’s wrong to give a citizen a green light to circulate a petition, wait five months until the citizen invests time and money in that position and then file a lawsuit to make them stop circulating the petition,” Friedman said. “As a result, Mr. Horgan spent several thousand dollars, both with the petition and trying to protect his rights.”
After the city sought the injunction, Friedman hit back in May by filing a motion accusing the city of violating his client’s free-speech rights.
At the end of May, Gates asked the court to drop the city’s lawsuit after learning that Horgan wouldn’t submit signatures from his petition, making the case moot.