ELECTIONS / COUNTY AUDITOR : Stratton to Appeal Ruling on Qualifications

TIMES STAFF WRITER

An appeal court on Wednesday upheld an earlier ruling that Simi Valley Mayor Greg Stratton lacks the educational qualifications to run for county auditor, but Stratton said he will file an appeal today with the state Supreme Court.

"We think we've got something significant enough to tickle the fancy of the Supreme Court," Stratton said. "So we're going to go up and give it a shot."

Initially, Stratton said Wednesday that he would not file an appeal with the state Supreme Court because he feared it might delay the county from printing sample ballots next week for voters to review before the June 7 election.

But he changed his mind after learning that county election officials had planned to wait until 3 p.m. Friday before ordering the printing to proceed in the event of a higher court challenge.

On Wednesday, the 2nd District Court of Appeal in Ventura denied Stratton's petition of mandate challenging a ruling handed down earlier by Superior Court Judge William L. Peck.

Peck ruled that Stratton's master's degree in business administration from Cal Lutheran University does not qualify him for the job because it was not earned at an accounting school.

But Stratton said that the 1957 state law outlining the requirements for auditor was vague and that the issue should have been left "for the public to decide."

"Maybe there's more to it than just a little race in Ventura County, like the bigger issues of what's fair and what's right," Stratton said of his decision to go ahead with another appeal. "Maybe there's really something here that the state Supreme Court would be interested in."

William Baker, a certified public accountant and one of five other candidates for auditor, filed the lawsuit challenging Stratton's qualifications. He said he believed the state Supreme Court would also rule against Stratton.

"If he feels that strongly about it, he should appeal," Baker said. "But my attorneys tell me the farther you go up the ladder the less likely you will prevail."

To qualify for county auditor, state law dictates that a candidate must either be a certified public accountant, have served as county auditor controller or deputy auditor controller for at least three years, or possess a certificate or diploma from a school of accountancy.

Because there are no more schools of accountancy in California, Stratton argued that his master's degree in business administration--including 14 units in accounting--was sufficient.

In his ruling, Peck said while Stratton might have a strong background in accounting and business administration, he nevertheless did not meet the literal requirements for the job as outlined in the 1957 law.

But Stratton said he believed that the courts are still wrestling with the interpretation of the law. He said that the 2nd District Court of Appeal last year overturned a lower court decision eliminating a candidate in the race for Santa Barbara mayor. In that case, the court ruled that a legal challenge of the candidate's qualifications must occur after the election.

"The state Supreme Court needs to clarify this issue" Stratton said. "The courts just can't say different things every six months."

Meanwhile, Robert R. Orellana, assistant county counsel, said the printer responsible for printing the county's sample ballots is ready to go, and is "just awaiting word from us."

The county needs to start printing sample ballots by Monday in order to meet a state mandated deadline for mailing samples to voters, Orellana said.

For the June 7 election, voting officials are required to mail sample ballots to the county's 350,000 voters between April 28 and May 16.

"The printer has two plates ready," Orellana said, "one with Stratton's name and one without."

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