Huntington Beach asks court to dismiss its lawsuit challenging resident’s petition for local gun ban

Huntington Beach City Attorney Michael Gates has asked for dismissal of the city’s lawsuit seeking to stop resident Daniel Horgan from circulating a petition to put a local gun ban on the November ballot after learning that Horgan wouldn’t submit signatures from the petition.
(File Photo)

The city of Huntington Beach is asking for dismissal of its Orange County Superior Court lawsuit seeking to stop a resident who was trying to put a proposed local gun ban on the city’s Nov. 6 election ballot.

City Attorney Michael Gates said he submitted the request Wednesday after receiving an email from Jerry Friedman, the attorney for resident Daniel Horgan, saying Horgan wouldn’t submit signatures from his gun petition, making the case moot.

Gates’ request comes about a month after he filed a lawsuit April 24 contending that the petition by Horgan, a local real estate agent and mortgage broker, was “unconstitutional, invalid and not entitled to a place on the ballot.”

Horgan’s proposed law would make possession and sale of semiautomatic and automatic firearms in Huntington Beach a felony by April 1. Such weapons already in circulation would have to be surrendered to the Police Department by Jan. 1, though there would be a three-month probationary period to comply.

In a notice of intent to circulate the petition that Horgan filed with the city in November, he called such weapons “a clear and imminent danger to our community.”

Gates’ suit contended the petition placed the city at odds with the Constitution’s Second Amendment, which protects the right to keep and bear arms. Gates also argued the proposal wasn’t presented as legislation the city could adopt.

A case management hearing on the issue was scheduled for June 4 in Superior Court but no longer appeared on the docket Thursday.

According to city officials, Horgan’s Committee to Reduce Gun Violence, which has three members, needs about 12,000 signatures from Huntington Beach registered voters by Saturday for the measure to qualify for the November ballot.

Horgan said Thursday that the petition had 587 signatures and that he had given up on collecting more.

He called his proposal “too extreme” and said he doesn’t anticipate taking further action immediately. But he added that “changes in society” are needed and that he plans to champion that effort.

On May 17, Friedman filed an anti-SLAPP motion on Horgan’s behalf, saying Huntington Beach was violating his client’s free-speech rights by trying to stop the petition. SLAPP stands for “strategic lawsuit against public participation” and is considered an attempt to intimidate critics by burdening them with the costs of a legal defense. California is one of 28 states that have anti-SLAPP laws.

Friedman, who is running for Gates’ seat in this year’s election, contended the city did not face injury while Horgan was collecting signatures and thus shouldn’t have filed a lawsuit filed against his client.

In an interview Thursday, Friedman said they might move forward with the anti-SLAPP motion, depending on whether the court approves the city’s request for dismissal of the lawsuit. If it is granted, Friedman said, the case would end and the sides would deliberate over attorney fees.

“The city dismissed its own lawsuit a month after they filed it,” Friedman said. “Had they waited a month, they would have saved my client from the anguish of being sued by his own city, saved the court from the hassle of a doomed lawsuit and saved themselves from the wasted city resources and embarrassment of violating my client’s right to petition.”

Gates has said he has a legal duty to uphold the Constitution and was looking to the court for direction since such a “flagrantly unconstitutional proposal” places city leaders in a “tough spot.”

If the anti-SLAPP motion moves forward, Gates said, the city remains confident in its case and believes the motion “has little merit.”

An anti-SLAPP hearing is scheduled for June 22 in Superior Court.

Huntington Beach’s lawsuit received mixed reactions from legal experts and community members.

UC Irvine law professor Richard Hasen said the city was “using a very large weapon against a weak threat,” while USC law professor Michael Jenkins said “there’s nothing illegal” about it and that a goal of blocking a proposal that is “clearly and unequivocally invalid” could be to avoid “wasting everyone’s time and money on an unnecessary election.”

Twitter: @vegapriscella