On August 1, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Curtis Karnow ruled that the six plaintiffs in Field v Bowen must pay attorneys fees to the groups that intervened in the lawsuit in support of the top-two system. The amount is $243,279. The six plaintiffs include Rodney Martin, chair of the Reform Party of California; Jeff Mackler, leader of the San Francisco Bay Area branch of Socialist Action; Steve Chessin, president of Californians for Electoral Reform; and Richard Winger.
Field v Bowen attacked two particularly oppressive aspects of the California top-two open primary law: (1) the original law said write-ins in November for Congress or state office could never be counted, but the state continued to let candidates file as declared write-in candidates and continued to print write-in space on the ballot; (2) the law said that only candidates who are registered members of qualified parties could have their party mentioned on the ballot next to the names of that candidate. Nor can such candidates even have the word “independent” on the ballot; they can only have “no party preference”, which for many is an untrue statement. Earlier this month, a Washington state court ruled that it is unconstitutional to print “no party preference” for a Socialist Alternative candidate for the legislature, and ordered the Secretary of State to print the candidate’s party name on the ballot next to her name.
But the California state courts upheld the write-in and label provisions of the California law last year, and Field v Bowen is no longer an active case, except for the matter of attorneys fees.
California state courts judges are justifiably unhappy that the state budget crisis has meant reduced funding for the court system, which has created many severe problems with administration of the courts. Unfortunately, many, if not most, of the California state court judges believe that the top-two open primary will result in a legislature that will have fewer opponents of tax increases. Therefore, these judges appear to be biased in favor of the top-two system. This is best illustrated by Judge Karnow’s shocking and punitive decision that we six plaintiffs must pay $243,279 to the law firm Nielson, Merksamer, which represents the groups and individuals who intervened in the case.
The plaintiffs asked for reconsideration. In response, Nielsen Merksamer has argued that we had no right to ask for reconsideration, and a hasty acceleration of the matter, only set on Friday afternoon, September 14, has pushed a hearing forward to Monday, September 17, at 11 a.m. at the San Francisco Civil Superior Court at the northwest corner of McAllister and POLK Streets. Here is a FairVote story about the matter. UPDATE: the original post erroneously said the court is at McAllister and Larkin.