Court Allows O.C. Election for Supervisor

Times Staff Writer

A state appeals court on Monday cleared the way for officials to hold today's special vote to fill a vacant seat on the Board of Supervisors, but said it will rule on the validity of the election later next month.

The 4th District Court of Appeal scheduled a Feb. 24 hearing to consider the legality of Measure V, the voter-approved initiative that called for a vacant board seat to be filled by election rather than by an appointment by the governor.

That means the county's newest supervisor will be seated and begin making decisions with the prospect of later being removed from office if the court throws out the election results.

Five candidates are running in the winner-take-all election to replace former Supervisor Todd Spitzer, now a state assemblyman, to represent central Orange County. The victor will be seated as soon as the election is certified, probably within a week.

Orange County Superior Court Judge Andrew P. Banks on Saturday declared Measure V unconstitutional. The judge also said the ballot materials for the measure were so misleading that voters couldn't have made an informed choice.

Banks said the election could occur, but ordered that officials not count the ballots. The appeals court immediately stayed his order.

Attorneys representing opponents of Measure V were unsuccessful Monday in convincing the appeals court to intervene and stop the election.

"When the [winner's] in there and deciding to approve projects and cut funding or whatever, that can't be undone," said attorney Tom Umberg.

Attorneys for Orange County couldn't be reached late Friday for comment.

Former Assemblyman Bill Campbell, one of today's candidates, said allowing the election was the right thing to do because it's a chance for people to vote. "The important thing is for the district to be represented," he said.

Rather than dampen turnout, the dueling court rulings over the weekend probably raised the visibility of the low-interest election, Campbell added.

Others aren't so sure.

Voters have shown little interest in the election in light of a possible war against Iraq and other larger issues, said Fred Smoller, who heads Chapman University's research center. "The longer-term significance is this is one more thing that undermines the integrity of this level of government in the eyes of many people," he said. "This suggests cynicism about the process. You had people use the charter process for a purpose for which it wasn't intended, which is what Judge Banks ruled."

Spitzer said the appellate judges knew that a supervisor would be elected and would begin legislating before a court finally resolves the issue.

"I'm very pleased the election is going forward because they see through the silly arguments put forward by the plaintiffs," he said.

Critics say Measure V was a blatant attempt by Republicans to prevent Democratic Gov. Gray Davis from appointing Spitzer's replacement. 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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