Democrat Christian F. (Rick) Thierbach won a tentative victory in court Thursday that blocks his Republican opponent in the increasingly bitter race for the vacant 72nd Assembly District seat from suggesting that he is an incumbent.
Thierbach complained that campaign literature for Republican candidate Curt Pringle has falsely implied that Pringle has already assumed office in a seat that was left vacant by the death of Assemblyman Richard E. Longshore (R-Santa Ana).
Siding with Thierbach, Superior Court Commissioner Eleanor M. Palk issued an order that prevents Pringle--at least until a hearing next week--from in any way laying claim to the incumbency in his campaign mailings.
But at the same time, the commissioner refused a broader request by Thierbach to also block Pringle from publicizing his offering of services to district residents while the Assembly seat is empty.
The ruling heats up an acrimonious race that has begun to shift from the political arena to the courts over the legality of campaign tactics by both sides. Thierbach and Pringle are vying for a seat that could prove critical in influencing the political leadership of the state Assembly under embattled Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco).
Thierbach, in a statement released by his campaign, declared: “I have been maintaining all along that Curt Pringle’s campaign is basically a massive political hoax. Now the court has confirmed that fact.”
But Pringle denied in an interview that he has ever implied he was the incumbent in the race, saying, “I will continue to hold that everything we did was very straightforward.”
The ruling “isn’t going to change my campaign one bit” and will not force the revision of any campaign materials now in the works, he said.
Yet Pringle’s attorney in the case asked the court to require a $50,000 bond from Thierbach’s campaign to guard against the prospect that Pringle may now have to scrap expensive mailings, only to have Thursday’s ruling overturned later. Palk rejected that suggestion.
The attorney, Darryl R. Wold, also suggested in court that Thierbach is guilty of the very offense of which he accuses Pringle.
Thierbach, in asking the court to grant an order against Pringle’s claims of incumbency, hit Pringle campaign literature for asserting that Pringle has helped “fill the void” left by Longshore’s passing and is already carrying out some of the duties of the office.
Frank P. Barbaro, lawyer for Thierbach, said after the ruling: “We got a victory for the voters today. They’re not going to receive from Curt Pringle . . . any more misleading or deceptive material.”
But Pringle dismissed his opponent’s claim to victory. Citing Thierbach’s training as a lawyer, Pringle said: “He knows all the lawyer’s tricks and legal loopholes. And he was able to get by with it this time.”
A state judge will consider next week whether to impose a stronger injunction against Pringle to replace the temporary restraining order that was issued Thursday.