DA’s office seizes petitions in Peotter recall effort over ‘potential irregularities’

The Orange County district attorney’s office has seized the petitions in the unsuccessful recall effort against Newport Beach City Councilman Scott Peotter over concerns about “potential irregularities,” the city said Friday.

The DA’s office served a search warrant to take the petitions from the Orange County registrar of voters office in Santa Ana, according to an email that Newport Beach City Clerk Leilani Brown sent to the City Council, city manager and city attorney.

“The search warrant was served under seal and we have not received a copy of the search warrant,” Brown wrote. “I am in contact with the DA’s office and hope to receive more information next week.”

Further details, such as specific allegations or the date the warrant was served, were unavailable.

Brown said she received word of the seizure from the registrar’s office. Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley referred questions to the DA’s office.

District attorney’s spokeswoman Michelle Van Der Linden said she can’t comment on the case unless charges are filed.

California election code makes petition circulators “criminally liable” for false or forged petition signatures.

Phil Greer, a recall proponent and lawyer for the Committee to Recall Scott Peotter, which organized the petition drive, said Friday that he doesn’t believe anyone on the committee was implicated in the irregularities. Fellow recall organizer Susan Skinner said she believed a third-party circulator may have forged signatures.

Peotter said he found out about the DA’s investigation when the rest of the council did Friday.

The registrar announced in December that the recall group fell short of forcing a special recall election. The committee submitted 10,696 signatures in October. The county threw out 2,357 as invalid. That left 8,339 valid signatures, 106 shy of the needed 8,445, representing 15% of the city’s registered voters.

Recall proponents initially said they would seek another round of verifications. But they said this week that they would not further challenge the examination of the petitions after several proponents inspected rejected signatures and said they appeared to be disqualified appropriately.

Recall supporters cited several issues of policy and civility in seeking Peotter’s removal, including his support of the now-scuttled Museum House high-rise condominium project. The group also said he insulted residents and colleagues and made poor financial decisions for the city, such as his August vote — along with four other council members — to decline the city’s share of state gas tax revenue in protest of the tax.

Peotter has said the recall effort targeted him for being “politically incorrect.”

He is up for reelection in November.

hillary.davis@latimes.com

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