Judge delays numbering of California ballot measures


SACRAMENTO — A judge here Friday stopped the state from assigning the order in which propositions will appear on the November ballot while he considers a lawsuit filed by the proponent of one such measure.

Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Timothy M. Frawley issued the temporary restraining order against Secretary of State Debra Bowen, who determines the proposition numbers, after hearing from attorneys representing initiative proponent Molly Munger. Munger is backing a November tax measure that competes with Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax measure.

She alleges that Democratic lawmakers and county election officials violated state law in efforts to boost Brown’s proposal. With her lawsuit, Munger sought to prevent Bowen from placing the governor’s initiative above hers on the ballot, and her attorneys argued that the judge’s order was necessary to prevent “irreparable harm” to her measure.

The judge agreed and scheduled a hearing to evaluate the merits of her case July 9.

Brown’s campaign downplayed the judge’s action.

“We’re pleased the court put this on a fast-track and confident it will be resolved quickly so we can move forward,” Dan Newman, a spokesman for the governor’s initiative campaign, said in a statement.

The stakes were made clear Friday by courtroom attendance. The audience included a top aide to Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles), Brown’s campaign operatives and opponents of both tax measures.

Munger’s legal team maintains that Democrats in the Legislature acted illegally to move Brown’s measure toward the top of the fall ballot this week by changing state election law. The legislation, introduced Monday, passed without a committee hearing and signed by Brown on Wednesday, states that constitutional amendments — like the governor’s tax proposal — should appear ahead of other initiatives on the ballot.

“The Legislature and the governor took extraordinary steps to change the rules in the middle of the game,” said Grant Davis-Denny, Munger’s attorney.

Democrats, who hold wide majorities in both houses of the Legislature, passed the measure as part of the package of budget bills approved this week, which allows the law to take effect immediately. Most bills do not become law until the January following their signature by the governor.

“This bill … was in no way, shape or form related to the budget,” Munger’s complaint states. The lawmakers’ move was an “abuse of the political process and legislative power.”

Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) said the bill was simply a “clarification” of existing law, and Brown’s measure deserved to be at the top of the ballot because its fate would have important consequences for the state.

The lawsuit also alleges that election workers in Los Angeles and Alameda counties “failed to comply with their statutory duties” by tallying petitions for Brown’s campaign before Munger’s, even though the governor’s petitions were submitted after hers.

Frawley’s order granted Munger’s attorneys permission to depose election officials in the two counties.

Deputy Atty. Gen. Ross C. Moody, representing the secretary of state, argued that delaying the numbering of the initiatives would wreak havoc on ballot printing, which involves translating election information into various languages.

“The more you slow it down and the more you tinker with it,” he said, the more there was “the possibility of errors in the process.”

Munger’s attorneys used a series of charts and graphs to argue that the legal proceedings would not jeopardize the state’s traditional election calendar.

A secretary of state spokeswoman, Nicole Winger, said Bowen would follow whatever the court ultimately decides, asking only “that the judge issue a ruling as soon as possible so that our staff can continue with the many preelection duties that are dependent on the decision.”