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Disqualified Huntington Beach city attorney candidate asks state Supreme Court to declare city rule unconstitutional

Disqualified Huntington Beach city attorney candidate asks state Supreme Court to declare city rule unconstitutional
Huntington Beach resident Jerry Friedman was disqualified from running for city attorney because the law school he attended is not accredited by the American Bar Assn. (File Photo)

About a week after being disqualified from running for city attorney because he didn’t graduate from a law school accredited by the American Bar Assn., Huntington Beach resident Jerry Friedman is asking the California Supreme Court to declare the requirement unconstitutional and reinstate him in the race.

Friedman’s attorney Christine Kelly filed a writ of mandate Thursday on his behalf against City Attorney Michael Gates and City Clerk Robin Estanislau, calling on the court to stop the city from enforcing the rule. She also is requesting that the city pay her attorney fees.

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Kelly contends the ABA accreditation requirement — one of four city prerequisites for running for city attorney — is “unique, arbitrary and capricious” and violates Friedman’s “fundamental right to hold elected office.” She said the state Supreme Court has “repeatedly held that the right to hold office is a fundamental right because it is inextricably intertwined with the right to vote.”

The accreditation requirement, Kelly contends, also “demonizes” attorneys from non-ABA-accredited schools. It is “oppressive and punitive on the basis of socioeconomic class” and is “invidiously discriminatory,” according to her filing.

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“ABA-accredited law schools tend to have greater prestige than other law schools, tend to charge higher tuition than other law schools and tend to be attended by wealthier students than other law schools,” Kelly wrote.

Friedman earned his law degree at the University of West Los Angeles in 2013. His Inglewood-based alma mater lacks the ABA’s endorsement, though it is accredited by the Western Assn. of Schools and Colleges and the Committee of Bar Examiners of the State Bar of California.

Friedman referred questions Thursday to Kelly, who could not immediately be reached for further comment.

Gates called Friedman’s lawsuit “politically motivated” and “inappropriate” and said it doesn’t make sense to challenge only one of the four requirements.

Estanislau notified Friedman by email July 30 that he had failed to meet the accreditation rule.

“While I hold no personal opinion of you or your worthiness as a candidate for the elected position of city attorney, based on the guidelines of Charter 309 … I have no choice but to disqualify you from taking further action during the candidate nomination period for the Nov. 6, 2018, general municipal election,” Estanislau wrote.

Estanislau said in an interview that she gave Friedman “feedback” the day he submitted paperwork stating his qualifications and made a comment in response to the question about his education. Friedman wrote “unconstitutional, see letter attached” and included his attorney’s rebuttal.

“I knew he might challenge it,” Estanislau said. “I went ahead and put something in writing that night.”

In 2010, the city reviewed proposed charter amendments intended to “clean up” obsolete language, according to Estanislau. Voter-approved amendments that year included stricter qualifications for city attorney, city clerk and city treasurer.

This is Friedman’s second recent dispute with the city. In April, Gates took legal action intended to stop Friedman’s client, Daniel Horgan, from circulating a petition seeking a ban on semiautomatic and automatic guns in Huntington Beach. Gates argued that Horgan’s proposal was “unconstitutional, invalid and not entitled to a place on the ballot.”

Friedman hit back in May by filing a motion accusing the city of violating Horgan’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 gun petition, making the case moot.

Last week, Orange County Superior Court Judge Robert Moss denied Friedman’s request for $14,385 for 46 hours of work in July.

“Friedman essentially lost to the city in court a week ago,” Gates said Thursday. “He has really had no victory against the city in his legal actions thus far. He just keeps striking out.”

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