LOS ANGELES (CN) – A candidate for Los Angeles District Attorney’s office will be allowed to list her occupation as a federal public defender on the upcoming 2020 primary ballot, after an LA judge rejected a challenge Tuesday from a voter who claims the candidate no longer works in that office.
Former assistant federal public defender Rachel Rossi seeks to unseat incumbent District Attorney Jackie Lacey. The only other candidate in the race is former San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón.
Rossi’s primary occupation on the March 3, 2020 primary ballot is listed as “public defender, federal” which an LA County voter claims is misleading.
Rossi’s campaign says the challenge to her ballot designation originated from Gascón’s camp. David Evans, the petitioner who sought a writ of mandate, asked an LA County judge to order the County Registrar’s office to amend the ballot.
Evans is represented by the Sutton Law Firm. The firm’s partner James Sutton was listed as treasurer for the Re-Elect District Attorney George Gascón 2019 committee.
In a statement, Gascón spokesperson Maxwell Szabo says, “It’s undisputed that Ms. Rossi has never been the federal public defender. We’re concerned that her new court-ordered designation still misleads the voters, however, as she has had multiple jobs since she was an assistant federal public defender.”
Rossi previously worked as an LA County deputy public defender and deputy alternative public defender from October 2011 through October 2014. From 2014 until earlier this year she worked as an assistant federal public defender in the Central District of California.
During oral argument before LA County Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff on Tuesday, Rossi’s attorney Marc Williams of Cohen Williams accused Evans’ attorney Bradley Hertz of “argument gymnastics” in trying to argue that statute and regulations in election code could be parsed separately.
Hertz argued Rossi’s current primary profession is a consultant with a private practice because it makes up the majority of her work, and designating her as a federal public defender on the ballot is false and misleading since she no longer works in the federal public defender’s office. Voters will see her designation and not understand that she’s since changed jobs, Hertz said.
“Is it true? I don’t think it is accurate. It misleads. Is it how a candidate makes a living?” Hertz asked during argument.
Later Beckloff asked Hertz, “We wouldn’t be having this argument if Ms. Rossi was unemployed, correct?” Hertz agreed.
Evans did not make any suggestions on how Rossi should be designated on the ballot, but in court Hertz said Rossi could be listed as a criminal defense attorney.
LA County Registrar Dean Logan, a respondent in the case, said in court filings that Rossi has discretion under election code in listing her job title on the ballot.
Initially Rossi wrote "federal public defender" and then wrote "public defender, federal."
In his ruling, Beckloff rejected Evans’ contention that voters would be misled.
“The court finds Rossi's new designation is not confusing,” Beckloff wrote. “A reasonable voter would not believe Rossi is the appointed federal public defender based on the manner in which she has now configured her ballot designation. The comma in Rossi’s newly configured designation informs a reasonable voter her occupation is that of a public defender in the federal court system.”
In a statement after the ruling dropped, Rossi said, “It is unfortunate that we spent Christmas Eve in court defending a baseless challenge. I am happy, however, that the judge agreed with us today and denied the petitioner’s frivolous petition.”
At a recent candidate forum, both Rossi and Gascón positioned themselves as advocates for reform in the LA County DA’s office.
Rossi, who identifies as a black Latina, has served as counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee and criminal justice counsel to U.S. Senator Richard Durbin, D-Illinois.
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