The Accretive Group, through Paul Schumann of Fallbrook, has targeted the five area residents who signed the ballot arguments against November’s Measure B. Schumann has sued the five, including former Supervisor Pam Slater-Price, former Valley Center Unified School District Supt. Lou Obermeyer, of Escondido; Victor Reed, a former Escondido fire captain; Jeanne Brown and Martha Cox.
They are named “in their capacities as authors of Argument in Opposition to San Diego County Measure B.” This is the sixth legal action that Accretive and Schumann have pursued against their opponents. A hearing on the lawsuit will be held on Friday, February 24.
Measure B sought to authorize the 1,746-unit Lilac Hills Ranch project several miles north of the City of Escondido. It was defeated in November with more than 66% of the voters voting No.
Schumann, who was one of five people who pushed Measure B and was the legal “face” of the proposition, was last in court in September when his attorneys (Accretive’s attorneys) challenged the wording of the No on Measure B ballot argument. The new lawsuit derives from that earlier battle, when Accretive forced some changes in the language of the ballot argument.
Schumann and Accretive seek to be reimbursed their court costs for that action.
Schumann (or rather Accretive, whose law firm, the Sutton Law Firm, is acting for the plaintiff) is demanding in excess of $88,000 to reimburse Accretive and its investors for the legal fees it spent suing over the ballot argument wording in September. The plaintiff has also signaled that he will sue for the legal fees incurred for suing for the legal fees. The total they seek is more than $100,000.
The “No on Measure B” co-chairmen, Mark Jackson and James Gordon Monday sent an email to the five signers pledging, “You will not be financially impacted by this matter.”
They wrote, “Catherine Engberg and Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger will continue to handle the defense of this action for each of you as they did in September. Also, the NO on B campaign, along with James and I, accept responsibility for the legal fees and any judgement or settlement.”
Accretive argues that if it had not sued in September the public would have been harmed by the arguments presented. Accretive alleges that it “preserved the integrity of the ballot pamphlet and benefited the general public.”
Schumann and Accretive base their lawsuit on a California statue known as the “private attorney general doctrine” which permits private citizens to sue to “enforce important statutory or constitutional rights” and to recover their legal fees.
Gordon wrote: “Accretive’s position is that if they had not sued each of you, the voters of San Diego would have lost important constitutional rights. Therefore, their lawsuit was for the benefit of the public interest (even though they lost by almost 315,000 votes even after the Judge amended the ballot arguments).”
According to the lawsuit: “petitioner is entitled two an award of attorneys’ fees for successfully challenging and securing the deletion or amendment of a large number of faults or misleading statements from Real Parties’ ballot arguments. An award is appropriate in light of the requirements listed in section 1021.5: petitioner was the ‘successful party’ as against real parties and (1) his action has resulted in the enforcement of an important right affecting the public interest;’ (2) ‘a significant benefit whether pecuniary or non-pecuniary has been conferred on the general public or a large class of persons,’ and (3) the necessary and financial burden of private enforcement are such as to make the award appropriate.”
Gordon commented, “Although there are a number of defenses to this litigation, it is such an unusual litigation that there is no clear case law providing guidance to the Judge, creating uncertainty over the outcome.”
Gordon said that several people feel that the real reason for the lawsuit “is to intimidate voters and community members from ever making negative comments against the Lilac Hills Ranch Project when they come back to the Board of Supervisors (BOS) in the future.
“Sadly, in talking with members of the Community, this seems to be working as people who have opposed the project in the past are now worried about being sued if they should ever oppose the project in the future,” said Gordon. “We are hopeful that San Diego Citizens will express their concerns and outrage over this litigation to the media, local politicians and the Board of Supervisors. This litigation is a continuing abuse of the ballot initiative process and is the 6th piece of legal actions taken against the NO on B Campaign or its supporters that Accretive has filed since September.”