11/19/2014California Court of Appeal Upholds Anti-Camera Initiative
Red light camera company must pay legal fees of anti-camera referendum proponents, according to Court of Appeal decision.
California's second-highest court rejected the attempt of a for-profit company to interfere with the right of voters to decide whether photo enforcement can be used in Murrieta. A three-judge panel went further on Tuesday and ruled that Stephen Flynn, the agent of American Traffic Solutions (ATS), must pay the court costs of Diana Serafin, the organizer of a November 2012 referendum that won 57 percent of the vote to bring the cameras down.
ATS hired the expensive Sacramento law firm of Bell, McAndrews and Hiltachk LLP to block the ballot measure, using Flynn, a former member of the city traffic commission, to headline the suit and disguise the company's involvement. ATS won the first round in court, but Serafin prevailed on appeal and the vote went forward. Serafin petitioned to force Flynn (and ATS) to pay her for the cost of defending the election.
"Serafin's main goal in opposing Flynn's preelection challenge was to ensure that the voters of Murrieta had the opportunity to exercise their right to vote on a ballot initiative," Judge Art W. McKinster wrote for the unanimous panel. "Serafin was entirely successful in that endeavor and, in the process, they vindicated an important public right. We also conclude Flynn interfered with the exercise of an important right, and he is the type of party who is liable for attorney fees."
The trial court will hold a hearing on the merits of the request for $131,858 attorney fees and costs. The Court of Appeal did not consider the merits of the initiative itself. Serafin did not appeal or participate in the postelection case on the validity of the initiative since she had already won and the cameras were removed. The appellate panel chided the trial court judge for refusing to award attorney fees because Serafin did not win the postelection challenge.
"We find no support whatsoever in the actual language of section 1021.5 or in the published decisions for the trial court's conclusion that Serafin had to successfully defend Measure N in a postelection challenge before moving for attorney fees," Judge McKinster wrote.
Fees and costs are only supposed to go to the side that wins, and the appellate panel was more than satisfied that Serafin met this test. The court added harsh words for the way ATS lawyers used the legal system to give Serafin no time to react.
"In light of Serafin's limited objectives in this case and the result that was ultimately obtained -- a judgment denying Flynn's preelection challenge and allowing Measure N to go before the voters at the November 6, 2012, election -- Serafin clearly meets the definition of a prevailing party," Judge Art W. McKinster wrote. "There is no doubt that the voters of Murrieta had an interest in the result of this case because at stake was their constitutional right to vote on a ballot initiative. But by delaying filing his petition for almost eight months after the city clerk and county registrar of voters certified the sufficiency of the signatures to place Measure N on the ballot, Flynn's lawsuit necessarily implicated and interfered with the right of the voters in Murrieta to vote on the measure."
A copy of the unpublished ruling is available in a 200k PDF file at the source link below.