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Chuck Reed suffers another legal blow

Posted 9 years 77 days ago ago by   

San Jose Mercury News, March 14, 2014

SACRAMENTO -- San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed's statewide pension reform initiative was dealt a major setback Thursday when a judge rejected a lawsuit that could have made it much easier for Reed get his measure on the ballot.

Attorney General Kamala Harris, whose office must write an unbiased overview for all initiatives aimed for the California ballot, in January issued what Reed considered an inaccurate summary for his proposed statewide pension measure. Last month, Reed sued to overturn the summary while he put signature-gathering to qualify the initiative for the ballot on hold.

In a tentative ruling the day before Friday's final hearing, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Allen Sumner shot down Reed's case, saying that Reed failed to prove Harris' ballot summary was false, misleading or biased.

"The court must presume her language is accurate, absent 'clear and convincing' proof otherwise," Sumner wrote.

Reed's measure is now at a standstill -- he has said it's unlikely to make the ballot this year and could be re-launched for the November 2016 election.

"We disagree with the judge's tentative decision," Reed said in a statement, adding that during Friday's hearing, "our lawyers will be arguing why the ballot summary is inaccurate and likely to create prejudice among the voters. After we receive a final ruling from the courts, I will be conferring with my fellow proponents on how best to move forward."

Reed and four other California mayors behind the initiative were upset that the first sentence in Harris's summary told voters the measure would "eliminate constitutional protections" for public workers, "including teachers, nurses and peace officers."

Reed argued his measure would only give local governments power to renegotiate pension benefits for public employees' future work performed, but Sumner said Harris's description was still accurate. Reed also charged that citing jobs popular with voters was unfair, though Sumner disagreed again, saying it was helpful and accurate to name the three types of workers that make up half of public employees.

The attorney general's office said it agrees with the ruling, but like the coalition of union groups opposing the measure, it declined to comment further until after the ruling is made final Friday.

It's the second significant legal blow to Reed's ballot-box pension reform mission, which has been his biggest priority in his second and final mayoral term that expires at the end of this year. In December, a judge struck down a key part of the city's voter-approved 2012 Measure B, saying San Jose public workers could not be forced to contribute more toward their pensions.

Contact Mike Rosenberg at 408-920-5705. Follow him at twitter.com/RosenbergMerc.