Disputes over conflicting campaign statements should be resolved on the campaign trail, not in the courts, San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge David S. Cohn ruled last Friday.
San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District Director Susan Longville took two issues to court last week in her re-election bid. She won one by default in her case against a foe who called herself a tax advocate without the background to back that up, according the San Bernardino County’s registrar of voters.
The judge ruled the case against former San Bernardino City Councilwoman Wendy McCammack was moot because the registrar already rejected the title.
Longville lost the second petition for a writ of mandate against challenger Anthony G. Jones, challenging his campaign statement that contends the Inland Empire drought is over.
Longville argued that the East Valley drought is far from over. It has continued for 20 years despite Gov. Jerry Brown’s declaration in April 2017 that the drought emergency was over except for a few parts of San Joaquin County, following a wet winter that produced the seventh-heaviest snowpack since 1950.
At the hearing on Friday, Aug. 31, Judge Cohn said Longville’s argument was reasonable and persuasive, but asked, “Isn’t this the kind of thing that you present to the voters in your campaign speeches?”
She said she does, reflecting the district’s 64-year-old mission to import water from Northern California to help the region survive chronic dry years.
“Shouldn’t the voters be entitled to hear your view and also to hear the contrary view of Mr. Jones and the voters will make a determination whether Gov. Brown’s statement was accurate or not,” Cohn asked.
Longville countered that it’s wrong for her opponent to misinform the voters. Her writ challenged two of Jones’ statements:
“We have basins in the hills of San Bernardino holding record levels of water.”
And, “The state of California has declared the drought over and yet the same drought-era taxing mechanisms are still taking money from taxpaying citizens for a non-existing concern.”
Jones said after the hearing that he’s not saying the drought it over, he’s quoting the governor.
In Longville’s response, she provides exhibits that show local basins continue to decline to “the lowest levels in recorded history.”
Both hearings had a sense of urgency because Monday was the deadline to alter the content of ballot statements before they’re printed and mailed to voters.
Cohn also said Longville’s writ did not meeting legal muster. He asked Jones’ attorney, Bob Ziprick, if Longville was given the time to have her arguments properly vetted by an attorney, would they show that his client’s statement was false and misleading?
“No, they don’t,” said Ziprick, standing next to Jones. “The problem is that we’re getting down to the deadline. The time for printing the ballots is now.”
Ziprick, an attorney based in Redlands, said Longville had plenty of time to prepare her documents properly. He agreed with the judge that the question should be debated on the campaign trail.
In the McCammack case, Cohn said she had the right to challenge the ruling of interim Registrar Bob Page. The judge scheduled a hearing at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 4, in his Department 26 at the San Bernardino Justice Center at Third Street and Arrowhead Avenue.
Tuesday morning, McCammack was not at the court, although Longville was. McCammack later confirmed that she did not file a petition and has decided to change the title to “taxpayer representative/businesswoman.”
In McCammack’s 122-page opposition to Longville’s petition she describes herself as an “unenrolled return preparer.”
“This designation is slightly different from an enrolled agent but only in the ‘limit vs. unlimited' levels of advocacy,” she writes. “The fact that the IRS permits enrolled agents to advocate at the formal appeals level does NOT alter the fact that the IRS explicitly permits an unenrolled return preparer to advocate for taxpayers at all levels up to and including informal appeals.”
In her response filed with the court, Longville contends that helping clients prepare tax returns does not make her a taxpayer advocate.
Longville, the wife of former Assemblyman John Longville who serves as a San Bernardino Valley Water Conservation District director, has represented District III on the Valley District board since 2014 when she beat five other candidates with a plurality of less than 29 percent of the vote. The district is mostly north of Highland Avenue covering north San Bernardino and parts of Highland.
McCammack represented the 7th Ward on the San Bernardino City Council for 13 years before she was recalled in the November 2013 election following the city’s bankruptcy filing, according ballotopedia.org. In that same election, however, she qualified to run for mayor against Carey Davis to replace retiring Mayor Pat Morris. Davis won with 56.8 percent vs. McCammack’s 43.2 percent the following February.
Jones came in fifth in his unsuccessful bid for a seat on the San Bernardino City Unified School District in November 2017. The other candidate for District III, Mayra Ceballos, came in seventh in the same race.