Today a superior court judge ruled that Proposition 77, an initiative supported by Governor Arnold Schwarzegegger, must be removed from the ballot because the signatures obtained to qualify it were collected illegally. Excerpts from John Wildurmuth's story are below.
Superior Court Judge Gail Ohanesian said backers of Proposition 77 improperly gave one version of the measure to the state attorney general for preparation of the official title and summary and then used a slightly different version to collect signatures around the state.
The judge dismissed arguments by the initiative's backers, who said that despite the unintentional miscue, they still "substantially complied" with the initiative rules set out in the state Constitution.
Prop. 77's supporters have no one to blame but themselves for the problem, Ohanesian said, since the rules "are clear and well known and easily followed.
"There is no good reason to put the courts in the position of having to decide what is good enough for qualifying an initiative measure for the ballot when actual compliance is easily attainable,'' she said.
With deadlines for the Nov. 8 ballot looming, Prop. 77's backers plan to go to the state Court of Appeal in Sacramento today or Monday in an attempt to get the initiative reinstated.
"This is just one round,'' said Daniel Kolkey, attorney for the Prop. 77 forces. "The appellate courts will make the final decision.''
Schwarzenegger, appearing at a transportation-related event in suburban Sacramento Thursday morning before the ruling, characterized the court fight over the redistricting issue as just another attempt to block his reform plan for the state.
"Ever since we announced our reforms, there have been a lot of forces that believe in the status quo and want to hold things the way they are,'' he said. "They have tried to derail us.''
During more than two hours of courtroom argument Thursday, Kolkey complained that the proposed punishment for a clerical error did not fit the crime.
"That clerical error is being turned into a constitutional confrontation that would disenfranchise more than half a million people who signed the petitions,'' he said.
The differences between the two versions includes about a half dozen word changes, a heavily rewritten "findings and purposes" section and two sections where the deadlines were changed for putting together the panel of retired judges that would do the redistricting.
"The differences are immaterial," Kolkey said, and aren't enough take away the people's right to put an initiative on the ballot.
But Deputy Attorney General Vicki Whitney argued that the dispute "is not a matter of wordsmithing" but instead deals with the constitutional requirement that the attorney general receive an exact copy of any initiative before it can be approved for circulation.
"Should the court create an exception to this requirement, where does the line get drawn after today?" she asked.
The fact that the attorney general, by law, provides a copy of every initiative to the state Department of Finance, the legislative analyst and the Legislature and then posts it on his department's Web site for public view is an important reason that he should have the one official version, the judge said.
"The public and the government officials are entitled to rely on that official version,'' Ohanesian said.