Judge Tosses Lawsuit to Declare Xavier Becerra Ineligible; Appeal Expected

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A California judge has dismissed a claim that Attorney General Xavier Becerra is ineligible for the office he hold.

On July 18, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Richard K. Sueyoshi, who in a tentative ruling the prior week dismissed the lawsuit prior to a July 13 hearing, stuck with his tentative decision and denied a writ filed by former Attorney General candidate Eric Early. The lawsuit stated that Becerra “does not and cannot meet the minimum eligibility requirements for the position of Attorney General.” Early failed to qualify for the general election after the June 5 primary.

Early’s “Petition for Writ of Mandate” sought to remove Becerra’s name from the ballot in California’s upcoming general election because Becerra was not an admitted, licensed attorney in the State of California for five uninterrupted years prior to being appointed by California Governor Jerry Brown.

California General Election Code 12503 says, “No person shall be eligible to the office of Attorney General unless he shall have been admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of the state for a period of at least five years immediately preceding his election or appointment to such office.” As of the November 6, 2018 general election, Becerra will have only been reactivated as a practicing attorney for a period of one year, ten months and five days, according to Early.

Becerra, a sitting member of Congress since 1993, was an “inactive” member of the California Bar for 26 years when Gov. Jerry Brown appointed him as California’s attorney general.  Becerra was appointed in January 2017 when then-California Attorney General Kamala Harris was elected to the U.S. Senate.

Judge Sueyoshi appeared read more into the statute by conflating “active status” in the California State Bar Association with “membership in the Bar,” which have two very different meanings — “inactive status” means the law license is suspended, voluntarily or involuntarily.

During the court hearing, Judge Sueyoshi talked of the “intent” of the statute. Plaintiff’s Attorney Brentford Ferreira argued that the statute is clear when it says, “admitted to the Supreme Court, ” and “admitted and licensed to practice law.”

The Judge’s ruling said state law “does not prohibit from serving as Attorney General a person who has voluntarily been placed on ‘inactive’ status with the State Bar at any point during the five-year period immediately preceding his or her election or appointment to the office.” Early and his attorneys said this is what he was trying to “read into” the state statute.

“Inactive with the State Bar Association means ‘suspended,” Ferreira said. Attorney “The words in the statute are unambiguously clear,” Ferreira reiterated: ‘admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of the state for a period of at least five years immediately preceding his election or appointment to such office.’”

After the Judge’s dismissal, Attorney Early said that he and his team are preparing to appeal. They want Becerra to be removed from the November ballot.

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