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Wednesday, July 24, 2024 | Back issues
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Lawsuit to recall Gascón survives — but time is running out

The effort continues to force a recall vote onto the November ballot. That's in spite of the fact that LA County DA George Gascón is already running for reelection.

LOS ANGELES (CN) — A Los Angeles Superior Court judge on Friday denied a request to throw out a lawsuit by the Committee to Support the Recall of District Attorney George Gascón — though a victory for the group is increasingly looking like it would be a symbolic one.

Gascón, after all, is already running for reelection.

Now in his third year in office, the incumbent Los Angeles County DA has become an increasingly divisive figure as he's been forced to contend with Covid, the George Floyd unrest, a crime spike and a full-scale mutiny by his staff of prosecutors.

Disgruntled deputy DAs and crime victim advocates organized a drive to recall Gascón in 2022, but the effort came up just 46,000 names short of making it to the ballot.

In August of that year, the Los Angeles County Registrar ruled that nearly 200,000 of signatures collected by the campaign were invalid.

The recall campaign then filed not one but two lawsuits against the registrar. The first was over access to the voter rolls and other documents that the committee wanted to examine in order to check the county's work.

The second, in the words of the most recent amended complaint, sought to "rectify one of the most monumental election errors in modern Los Angeles County history: the County Registrar’s unlawful rejection of tens of thousands of voter signatures in support of the petition to recall District Attorney George Gascón."

To recall an elected official in California, a campaign must gather enough signatures to match 10% of the jurisdiction's registered voters. In 2022, LA county officially had 5,668,569 registered voters, setting the recall threshold at 566,857 signatures.

The recall campaign is challenging both sides of the equation. They say that the county registrar set the threshold too high, inflating the official number of registered voters by around 250,000. Ten percent of that is 25,000 — meaning that under California law, the real threshold should have been closer to 540,000.

In its complaint, the campaign also said the registrar "incorrectly rejected at least 20,587 petition signatures that the law plainly required them to accept" — including at least 5,597 it says were tossed "based on the application of unconstitutional signature review standards." The campaign also noted that they have only had the chance to review around 110,000 of the 195,713 rejected signatures.

The math, in other words, is a close-run thing. If the recall campaign is found to be in the right, it would have just about enough signatures to finally put the recall on the ballot.

The county registrar, joined by DA Gascón, filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing the complaint hadn't provided enough evidence to back up their claims.

"They're saying there could be errors in the signature requirement determination [or] there could be errors in signature review," Deborah Caplan, the county registrar's attorney, told the judge on Friday. "We just want to do discovery and find out."

"There is absolutely zero — zero — information or factual allegations that the registrar had violated the statutes that they claim registrar violated," she added. "The petitioner has conceded it doesn’t have the facts. It just wants to do open-ended discovery to find the facts."

Judge Mitchell Beckloff, who's overseeing the case, said the recall committee had met their burden to overcome the demurrer.

"They're coming in and saying at least 20,000 are wrong, and we’re still investigating," Beckloff said. "I don’t know how I sustain a demurrer here."

Beckloff overruled the demurrer — meaning the case can go forward toward an adjudication, possibly in April. But if this was a victory for the recall committee, it looks to be an increasingly hollow one.

Even if the recall campaign is completely vindicated, after all, the recall vote would go before voters during the November general election. At that point, Gascón will already be on the ballot — so long as he survives his primary.

But maybe he won't. Gascón is facing a tough reelection, running against half a dozen or so current and former prosecutors and two former federal prosecutors.

Assuming none of the candidates get more than half the vote during the March primary — a highly unlikely outcome — the top two vote-getters would face each other in a November runoff.

That could tee up some paradoxical outcomes. Voters in November might have the option of both recalling and reelecting Gascón. Alternatively, they might recall a termed-out DA who'd already lost his reelection bid eight months ago.

Nevertheless, Recall campaign spokesman Tim Lineberger said that making the ballot still matters in spite of the impending election.

"You had hundreds of thousands of voters in LA County that were disenfranchised by a botched counting process by [the] registrar of voters," Lineberger said. Aside from the political outcome — who the next DA is — it's important to "uncover what really happened," he argued.

"It's the right thing to do on behalf of donors [and] volunteers," Lineberger said. "We feel like we were completely robbed by this process."

The Recall campaign could also ask for other non-political remedies, including money, to recoup the costs of their lawsuits. Gascón's lawyer, Stephen Kaufman, said during Friday's hearing that the plaintiffs had said that getting the recall put on the ballot is "not necessarily the only relief they're seeking."

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Categories / Courts, Politics, Regional

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