A judge all but slammed the door Friday on the efforts of two taxpayer groups to mount a ballot-box challenge to the public subsidy for the new Sacramento Kings arena, saying the groups made significant errors in the initiative petitions they circulated among the city’s voters.
Sacramento Superior Court Judge Timothy Frawley stopped short of ruling on the taxpayers’ lawsuit against the city, but his comments from the bench suggested he is strongly leaning toward keeping the arena subsidy off the ballot……..
Lawyer Brad Hertz, representing Sacramento Taxpayers Opposed to Pork and Voters for a Fair Arena Deal, argued that the flaws were “extremely minor” and don’t justify tossing out petitions signed by 22,938 voters, more than enough to qualify the issue for the June ballot.
After the hearing, Hertz acknowledged that his chances of winning the lawsuit appear to have diminished.
“It’s never over till it’s over, but we were disappointed with some of the preliminary findings,” Hertz told reporters. “Certainly there were no conclusive rulings. There were preliminary adverse rulings on some of the mistakes.” He said it’s likely the two taxpayer groups would appeal if Frawley rules against them. The appeals court would need to issue a ruling by March 3 for the City Council to have enough time to place the measure on the ballot for June.
The city’s lawyers weren’t ready to declare victory Friday. “We appreciated (Frawley’s) thoughtfulness and that gives us a measure of confidence,” said City Attorney James Sanchez.
STOP and the Fair Arena group sued after City Clerk Shirley Concolino rejected their petitions because of various wording problems. The judge said he was tilting toward the city’s arguments because of two flaws in particular. First, the campaign’s leaders left their names off a required legal notice, published last summer in the Sacramento Observer newspaper, declaring that petitions were about to be circulated. Second, the petitions omitted a so-called “enacting clause” making clear that the initiative would become law if approved by voters.
Hertz said those flaws didn’t mislead any voters or hinder their ability to make an informed choice on signing the petitions.
STOP’s leaders “got it pretty close to being right,” the lawyer argued. “The integrity of the process was not so negatively affected. … You err on the side of democracy.”
Hertz added that STOP co-founder James Cathcart, a retired legislative employee who oversaw the signature-gathering effort, made a “good faith effort” to get the wording right. “Democracy is sometimes a little messy and a little imperfect,” he said. “We can only apologize so many times.”
But a lawyer for The4000, a political action committee funded by the Kings, said the errors were “glaring” and not deserving of any wiggle room.
“There’s no ‘oops’ exception to the legal code,” attorney Sean Welch told the judge. “It’s not rocket science to put these petitions together.”
The Kings’ political group was allowed to intervene in the case after pointing out the team had spent $36 million buying the arena site at Downtown Plaza and millions more in development costs. If the arena doesn’t open by 2017, the NBA has the right to buy the Kings and move them out of town.
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