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Judge orders Huntington Beach to justify why city attorney candidate was disqualified

Judge orders Huntington Beach to justify why city attorney candidate was disqualified
Huntington Beach lawyer Jerry Friedman was disqualified from running for city attorney because he didn't graduate from a law school accredited by the American Bar Assn. (File Photo)

With less than two weeks before the official November election ballots are printed, a state appellate judge Friday ordered the city of Huntington Beach to submit briefs justifying why local lawyer Jerry Friedman was disqualified as a candidate for city attorney.

Friedman, who earned his law degree at the University of West Los Angeles in 2013, was disqualified by City Clerk Robin Estanislau on July 30 because he didn’t graduate from a law school accredited by the American Bar Assn., one of the city’s four requirements to run for the office.

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About a week later, Friedman’s attorney, Christine Kelly, petitioned the California Supreme Court for an order to stop the city from enforcing the rule. She also requested that the city pay her fees.

The case was passed down to 4th District Court of Appeal Judge Kathleen O’Leary, who made Friday’s order.

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Kelly contends the accreditation requirement is “unique, arbitrary and capricious” and violates Friedman’s “fundamental right to hold elected office.”

On Friday, Friedman said in a statement that he has “no problem with a few basic qualifications ... but the requirement for an attorney to have graduated from special schools means the city will only allow special candidates to run for office. This requirement is offensive to democracy.”

City Attorney Michael Gates, who is running for reelection in November, has called Friedman’s legal action “politically motivated” and “inappropriate” and said it doesn’t make sense to challenge only one of the four requirements. He said Friday that he remains confident the court will rule in the city’s favor.

“We’re happy to appear and file our briefs and continue defending the city’s charter,” Gates said.

The city’s brief is due Sept. 7 and Friedman’s reply is due Sept. 12.

A hearing on the matter is scheduled for Sept. 21 in Orange County Superior Court.

But even if Friedman were to win a favorable ruling, he would have to wait until the next election cycle to appear on the ballot because the official cutoff date is Sept. 11, according to Neal Kelley, the Orange County registrar of voters.

Friedman said his attorney is trying to move up the hearing.

Gates said that if Friedman received a favorable ruling “within a practical deadline,” the city would appeal.

In 2010, the city reviewed possible amendments proposed by the Huntington Beach Charter Commission to “clean up” obsolete language, according to Estanislau. Voter-approved amendments included stricter qualifications for the city attorney, city clerk and city treasurer.

This is Friedman’s second dispute with the city this year. In April, Gates took legal action intended to stop Friedman’s client Daniel Horgan from circulating a petition seeking to put a proposal on the local ballot to ban 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 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 gun petition, making the case moot.

In July, Friedman filed a court motion seeking $14,385 from the city for 46 hours of work on behalf of his client. A judge denied his request Aug. 3.

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