Judge Upholds Redondo Term Limits
A Torrance Superior Court judge has upheld Redondo Beach’s two-term limit for City Council members, effectively barring Councilman Ron Cawdrey from appearing on the March 5 ballot.
In a hasty court hearing convened after the city’s deadline for printing sample ballots for the election had passed, Judge William C. Beverly Jr. on Tuesday denied Cawdrey’s lawsuit seeking to overturn the city’s 16-year-old term-limitations law.
Noting that he has no California appellate court rulings on the rights of charter cities in this area to guide him, Beverly said term limits in such cities should be treated as municipal affairs outside the realm of state regulation.
Beverly did, however, express some reservations about the severity of the law.
But, he concluded, “the wisdom of the limitation is something that is not up to this court to assess.”
Cawdrey, who has served as District 5 councilman since 1982, said he was disappointed by the decision, but he indicated that his case may not yet be over.
“We won’t know that for another week or so,” Cawdrey said when asked whether he would appeal the ruling. He estimated he has spent between $15,000 and $20,000 on the case.
The case marked the second legal challenge in two years to term limits in charter cities. A similar case filed against the city of Cerritos in 1989 failed, but it was not appealed. Only appellate court rulings may be cited as legal precedents.
Concerned that Cawdrey’s case could be an opening salvo in a statewide battle over term limitations--most notably those established for state legislators under Proposition 140--attorneys from a Sacramento public-interest law firm tried to file a friend-of-the-court brief with Beverly to support the city’s position.
Beverly rejected the brief from Pacific Legal Foundation because it arrived too late for Cawdrey’s attorney, Barry Fisher, to respond to it in writing.
Fisher argued during Tuesday’s court hearing that term limits infringe on an official’s rights to run for office and on the voters’ right to elect whomever they choose. He also argued that City Clerk John Oliver had a duty to accept candidacy papers from Cawdrey and to place his name on the city’s ballot, even if Oliver believed Cawdrey would not be allowed to serve a third term.
Fisher said an appellate court decision that struck down term limits for a charter county established a precedent against the limits. That ruling overturned the limits on the grounds that only the state has jurisdiction in charter counties over questions of eligibility to hold office.
Fisher urged Beverly to apply that decision to Redondo Beach because it is a charter city.
But attorneys for the city argued that the state Constitution delineates a subtle difference between charter counties and charter cities.
“The Constitution says that a charter county will have only those powers which are specifically set forth in the charter,” said Glenn Watson, who argued the city’s case. “But the Constitution allows greater home rule for cities by saying that a charter city has all the powers that are not otherwise denied to it.”
Beverly’s ruling, Watson said, “was right on. He held that this is a local affair, that it was within the power of the city to adopt (the limit) and that it does not infringe on anyone’s constitutional rights.”
Cawdrey was appointed to the council in 1982 to fill the unexpired term of Gene King, who had resigned. The following year, Cawdrey was elected to a four-year term, and in 1985 he withstood a recall campaign led by community activists who opposed his backing of a plan to develop the defunct Aviation High School campus. He was reelected in 1987 to his current term, which expires in March.
Cawdrey stunned his council colleagues in September when he announced his intention to defy the two-term limit. He filed his lawsuit earlier this month.