In a rare decision, a Superior Court judge ruled Wednesday that “false and misleading” statements by a campaign opponent of Orange County Sheriff Brad Gates must be stricken from data with the official sample ballot that will be mailed to 1 million voters.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Judith M. Ryan granted a request by Gates’ attorneys for deletion of written comments by Linda Lea Calligan, 38, a Sheriff’s Department sergeant, including allegations that Gates has been “convicted of a federal crime” and has covered up the drunk-driving arrest of one of his deputies.
Ruling Upholds Code
In ruling, Ryan upheld the constitutionality of a 3-year-old state Election Code section that authorizes the deletion of candidate’s comments from voter’s pamphlets “upon clear and convincing proof that the material in question is false (or) misleading. . . .”
The ruling is likely to be a major setback for Calligan’s campaign for sheriff-coroner, since she spent virtually all of the campaign funds she had raised--$7,800--to pay for the 200-word statement of qualifications. Gates, meanwhile, has spent $55,000 on his reelection campaign since Jan. 1 and still has $114,000 left.
Calligan’s attorneys, William Yacobozzi and Leland D. Sterling, said the sample ballot is “very likely the only (Calligan) election material that will reach every voter. . . .”
Ryan’s ruling, however, does not affect the remainder of Calligan’s statement, which outlines her own qualifications and criticizes Gates for assertedly using a “misleading” advertisement in a previous campaign.
Yacobozzi said he will seek an appellate court order today to prevent the sample ballot wording from being stricken, pending a separate appeal of Ryan’s ruling on the ground that it infringes on the First Amendment right of freedom of speech.
The appeal is believed to be the first appellate challenge of the rarely invoked Election Code provision, attorneys said.
Ryan “chose to become judge and jury,” Yacobozzi complained. “Mrs. Calligan had enough supporting information to present that information (contained in her ballot statement) to the voters.”
However, Gates’ attorneys, Darryl R. Wold and John R. DiCaro, argued that there is no infringement of Calligan’s First Amendment rights.
The ruling does not prohibit Calligan from disseminating “false and misleading information in her campaign, by whatever other means she can find--mail, newspapers or from the rooftops,” Gates’ lawyers argued.
“This action is directed only at the contents of the official voters’ pamphlet to be mailed by the registrar of voters at taxpayers’ expense for postage. . . .”
The registrar of voters needed a ruling in the matter by today in order to meet printing deadlines. Ryan delayed the implementation of her order until 1:30 p.m. today to give Calligan’s attorneys an opportunity to file an appeal.
“I’m certainly happy,” said Gates, who did not attend the court session. “For my family’s sake and all of my friends, I’m just not going to put up with those kinds of attacks in the future. There’s a point a man and a sheriff has to draw the line.”
“It’s two issues,” he continued. “The first issue is they (Calligan’s ballot statements) are lies. The second thing is should the taxpayers pay for untruthfulness and lies?”
Not Surprised at Ruling
Yacobozzi said Calligan intends to continue voicing her allegations during her campaign against Gates, her boss at the Sheriff’s Department. Yacobozzi also said he was not surprised by Ryan’s ruling and had advised his client that the Superior Court decision was likely to be in Gates’ favor.
Calligan left the courtroom immediately following the ruling. She declined comment, saying in a hoarse voice that she was suffering from laryngitis and was on her way to a doctor’s appointment.
The wording stricken from her sample ballot statement was:
“He’s (Gates has) been convicted of a federal crime and fined $100,000 which taxpayers paid. He owned a bar, a state law violation, and covered up a felony drunk-driving arrest.
“He’s charged the taxpayers $5,100,000 for low security tents to house violent criminals and. . . .”
However, Ryan found insufficient evidence to remove the last portion of that sentence, which reads: " . . . we’ve more lawsuits than any California jail.”
Calligan’s accusations that Gates was convicted of a federal crime were based on U.S. District Judge William P. Gray’s decision to hold Gates and county supervisors in contempt of court last year for failing to alleviate overcrowding at the county main jail, as Gray had ordered seven years earlier.
Gates’ attorneys countered that the contempt citation was a civil proceeding, not a criminal action.
Gates also argued that the fine imposed for the contempt citation in a class-action suit over jail overcrowding was levied against all of the defendants, not just Gates.
The sheriff also submitted documentation showing that he owned a 4% interest in a limited partnership in 1975 that intended to operate an Irvine restaurant, but that he sold his interest before the establishment obtained a liquor license. Law officers are prohibited by law from holding interest in a liquor license.
Letter From Deputy D.A.
Finally, Gates’ attorneys submitted a 1977 letter from Orange County Deputy Dist. Atty. John D. Conley stating that an investigation by that office found “no evidence to show that the Sheriff’s Department officers played any role” in the decision not to prosecute a sheriff’s deputy for drunk driving.
Conley found “insufficient evidence” that officers of the Newport Beach police, the agency that made the arrest, were involved in a cover-up.
Ryan also sided with Gates’ attorneys who argued that the temporary tents that have been acquired to house inmates at the James A. Musick branch jail cost only about $700,000 and do not house “violent criminals.”