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H.B. lawyer disqualified from running for city attorney seeks to keep court challenge going

H.B. lawyer disqualified from running for city attorney seeks to keep court challenge going
Huntington Beach lawyer Jerry Friedman has challenged the city in court over a requirement that candidates for city attorney be graduates of a law school accredited by the American Bar Assn. (File Photo)

A local lawyer who was deemed ineligible to run for city attorney in Huntington Beach last year is still trying to challenge the city, about four months after a judge validated Huntington’s reasons for its strict rules for the position.

Jerry Friedman’s attorney Christine Kelly filed a notice of appeal in November of Orange County Superior Court Judge Robert Moss’ ruling two months earlier, but Presiding Justice Kathleen O’Leary of the state 4th District Court of Appeal dismissed the motion last week because Kelly didn’t file necessary documents “in a timely manner.”

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The dismissal will be final within 30 days of O’Leary’s order unless Friedman and Kelly show “good cause” as to why the documents were late.

But Friedman held out hope this week that the appeal can go forward. He called the matter a “disagreement” and contended the papers were filed on time.

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“Somebody made a mistake and it can be fixed,” Friedman said. “It happens.”

Kelly could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.

With Friedman ruled ineligible, City Attorney Michael Gates ran unopposed and won reelection in November. He called Friedman’s legal action “politically motivated” and “inappropriate.”

Friedman “dropped the ball” on “easy” procedures, Gates said this week. “If you were hell-bent on a certain goal, you don’t miss stuff like this.”

The legal wrangling began in July after City Clerk Robin Estanislau disqualified Friedman from the city attorney race because he didn’t graduate from a law school accredited by the American Bar Assn., one of the city’s four requirements to run for the office.

Friedman earned his law degree at the University of West Los Angeles in 2013. The Inglewood-based school lacks the ABA’s endorsement, though it is accredited by the Western Assn. of Schools and Colleges and the Committee of Bar Examiners of the State Bar of California.

Friedman contended that Huntington Beach’s requirement is unconstitutional, and Kelly petitioned the California Supreme Court in August for an order to stop the city from enforcing the rule.

The case was passed down to the 4th District Court of Appeal and a hearing was scheduled in Orange County Superior Court, more than a week past the county registrar of voters’ Sept. 11 cutoff for the Nov. 6 ballot.

On Sept. 21, Moss denied Friedman’s request to declare the requirement unconstitutional and reinstate him as a candidate. Moss said Friedman’s arguments were “without merit” and that the city has a “valid interest” in candidates’ qualifications because its status as a charter city “imposes a wide range of responsibilities” for an elected city attorney.

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