Two Rulings Roil Election for O.C. Post

Times Staff Writers

The election to pick an Orange County supervisor, scheduled for Tuesday, was thrown further into disarray Saturday when a judge ruled that the initiative making the election possible was unconstitutional.

Orange County Superior Court Judge Andrew P. Banks allowed the election to go forward but ordered county officials not to count the ballots until an appeals court could consider the matter.

The state's 4th District Court of Appeal then immediately stayed Banks' ruling Saturday evening and said it would begin examining the matter Monday -- election eve. It's unclear when the court will rule; unless the justices take action Monday, the election will occur Tuesday as scheduled.

At issue is Measure V, an initiative approved by county voters that calls for vacancies on the Board of Supervisors to be filled by special election rather than appointment by the governor. Banks concluded that the language and campaign literature for the measure misled voters into believing the initiative would give residents more "local control."

"The voters of Orange County ... were prevented from making an informed choice as to Measure V because the election materials [were] so inaccurate and misleading," Banks wrote.

The five candidates seeking the vacant 3rd District supervisor's seat have been raising money and campaigning even though the fate of the balloting has been in doubt. About 21,000 absentee ballots have been cast for the election.

On Saturday, one candidate, former Assemblyman Bill Campbell, expressed hope that the appeals court would allow the election to be held on schedule. Campbell said he was at a campaign event when both courts' decisions were announced. The crowd booed when they heard of Banks' ruling but cheered later when told about the appeals court intervention, he said.

Attorneys representing those who challenged Measure V praised Banks for a "courageous" decision and said they expected the appeals court to ultimately back up the judge. They are demanding that the election be scrapped.

"We don't want [the county] to waste taxpayer money to pursue this now that [Banks] has issued a comprehensive opinion on its unconstitutionality," attorney Tom Umberg said.

Critics say Measure V was a blatant attempt by Republicans to prevent Democratic Gov. Gray Davis from appointing a replacement for Todd Spitzer, who left the board in December to take a seat in the state Assembly. Before Measure V, the governor would fill vacancies on the board.

Measure V created a special county charter with a single provision: that all board vacancies be filled by special election. The measure was written by Spitzer and supported by the Orange County GOP. County voters, most of whom are Republican, approved it in March.

Banks concluded that Measure V was fatally flawed because it failed to comply with requirements in the state Constitution for creating county charters. Voters were told the measure would give residents more "local control" of government. In reality, the judge said, the measure would leave many aspects of county government under the control of the state, except for filling vacancies on the board.

Critics said the measure was designed to boost the political fortunes of Campbell, one of the five candidates. Spitzer endorsed Campbell, and some believe Spitzer sponsored Measure V to help Campbell. Spitzer has denied political motives.

Attorneys for the county, defending the initiative, declined to comment

Besides Campbell, the candidates are former Tustin Councilman Jim Potts; Robert Douglas of Orange, a reserve sheriff's deputy; Douglas Boeckler, a supervising veterans representative from Orange; and William A. Wetzel, an educator from Orange.

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