It's hard to know whether critics of Gov. Jerry Brown's tax initiative getting the top spot on November's ballot thought they were making a safe bet... or throwing a Hail Mary... by asking a judge to intervene.
But either way, they found an unreceptive audience in Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny on Monday morning. Kenny rejected a request to delay the numbering of this fall's eleven statewide propositions, a delay they hoped would prove that the governor's measure deserves to appear near the bottom of the fall ballot.
Although the actual lawsuit encompassed two issues -- the reporting of valid initiative signatures by local officials and the Legislature's action to give Brown's tax top billing -- the courtroom battle only focused, interestingly, on what happened in two county elections offices.
Attorneys for wealthy civil rights attorney Molly Munger, whose team submitted tax initiative signatures for verification before Brown, wanted time to dig deeper into the actions of elections officials in Los Angeles and Alameda counties.
Munger attorney Bradley Phillips told the court that it's important to determine whether those local elections officials committed an "error, omission, or neglect of duty" in reporting the results of Brown's signature verification ahead of theirs, even though they submitted signatures for their initiative first.
But Judge Michael Kenny rejected that line of attack on what happened.
"Aren't you asking me to micromanage the (Los Angeles County) registrar's office?" Kenny asked in court.
That skepticism was a problem for Munger's team, as the judge suggested local elections officials should have discretion in how they verify whether initiative signatures are valid, and not be required to follow a 'first in, first out' procedure for initiative verification that doesn't allow for deviations.
In a written response to a Twitter query, Los Angeles County registrar of voters Dean Logan wrote, "L.A. County followed standard protocol & local procedures for checking petitions."
By midday, the Munger team had already decided not to appeal Judge Kenny's ruling, thus clearing the way for Secretary of State Debra Bowen to immediately assign numbers to the eleven November measures.
The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association was given standing in the case and is considering its own appeal on the broader constitutional issue: can the Legislature and governor, in a bill designated as a state budget 'trailer' bill, re-order the ballot to give favor to constitutional amendments?
Brown's tax hike, unlike the income tax increase for K-12 schools written by Munger, would amend the state constitution because it also includes the language for a permanent realignment of state and local government services.
Jon Coupal, president of the Jarvis group, told reporters after the court hearing that moving ballot measures around using the rules contained in 2010's Proposition 25 is tantamount to "one-party, dictatorial rule in the state of California."
"The court rightly rejected this frivolous lawsuit," said Dan Newman, a spokesman for the governor's tax campaign. "Let's stop the games and do what's right to protect our schools, public safety, and balance the state's budget."