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Judge rules Newport activist can collect legal fees in ballot argument case

Judge rules Newport activist can collect legal fees in ballot argument case
The Newport Beach Civic Center and Park, which opened in 2013, was financed largely through certificates of participation, which were the subject of Measure T in November's election. (File Photo)

A group of former Newport Beach City Council members must pay local activist Bob Rush’s attorney fees after their unsuccessful attempt to swap out arguments opposing a local proposition on November’s ballot, an Orange County Superior Court judge ruled Friday.

Rush said the tab is about $24,000.

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Judge Robert Moss ordered former Newport Mayors Keith Curry, Rush Hill and Mike Henn and former Mayor Pro Tem Jean Watt to pay Rush’s legal costs in the case, which they lost in August. The quartet sued Rush and Newport Beach City Clerk Leilani Brown in July in an attempt to have their argument against Measure T run in informational pamphlets for the election in place of one written by Rush.

They contended Rush didn’t actually oppose the measure, which asked voters to approve an amendment to Newport’s city charter to require 55% voter approval whenever the council wants to spend at least $50 million on capital projects using a financing method known as certificates of participation. The proposition cruised to victory in the election with about 80% of the vote.

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“I’m going to go get myself a nice little gift that I’ll put on display so I’ll always have a fond memory of Henn, Hill, Curry and Watt paying for it,” Rush said Friday. “This will be an example for the public that the opinion of a political snob doesn’t outweigh that of a regular person.”

In October, Moss ruled against Rush’s separate motion that the lawsuit constituted an attempt to censor, intimidate or silence him by burdening him with legal costs.

Attorney Phil Greer, who represented the group of former council members, said the judge’s decision Friday was “inconsistent” because it should have relied on the same criteria he used to deny the censorship motion — that the suit was in the public interest with no personal benefit.

He said he would meet with his clients Monday to discuss whether to appeal.

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