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Judge Orders Election in Hawaiian Gardens

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Saying that Hawaiian Gardens city officials conspired to avoid placing a recall election on the November ballot, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge on Friday scheduled a special December election to decide the fate of three City Council members.

Superior Court Judge Diane Wayne said the city clerk and the council members circumvented their obligations under state elections law by stalling the certification of recall petitions against Mayor Lupe Cabrera and council members Robert Canada and Robert Prida.

“The evidence presented shows that [the city clerk and three council members] engaged in acts to purposely avoid performing their duties as mandated by the Elections Code,” the judge wrote.

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The ruling means that four of the council’s five members--including Councilwoman Kathleen Navejas--now face recall by the end of the year, largely over the city’s perilous financial condition. Some say that the elections could become a virtual referendum on the city’s progress toward a controversial card club approved by voters last year.

In a tentative ruling issued Friday, Wayne said City Clerk Domenic Ruggeri “purposely acted to frustrate” the recall effort by postponing his certification duties until after the county deadline for November elections had expired.

Ruggeri said Friday that he has been unable to verify signatures gathered this spring against the three council members, even though the petitions were returned to him July 17 by county workers who had already approved them.

City Atty. Julia Sylva supported Ruggeri’s claim, saying that she and other city staff still need more time to examine “egregious” errors on each of the recall petitions. She said county workers apparently overlooked hundreds of questionable signatures--such as those belonging to residents who are not registered to vote--when they certified the petitions in July.

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The judge also rejected the arguments of Cabrera, Canada and Prida, who had contended that they were unable or unwilling to attend two consecutive council meetings in July when certification of the recall effort against them was to be considered.

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Cabrera, Canada and Ruggeri refused to discuss the ruling. Prida could not be reached for comment.

Depositions filed with the court, however, detail at least part of the reason the council could not reach a quorum on each of the July meetings. Canada said he did not attend at least one of the council meetings because it was “against his best interest.”

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Cabrera testified that he had avoided one of the meetings and instead gone for a long drive. Prida said he was unable to attend both meetings because his nephew was hospitalized with influenza.

The complaint against the four city officials was filed by Fredric Woocher, the same attorney whose lawsuit has so far halted construction of the card club. He said he is also fighting the scheduling of a recall election Sept. 24 against Councilwoman Navejas.


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