Aurora Clark, a community advocate, has been ordered to pay Chula Vista councilman John McCann $99,918 to cover legal bills in connection with a 2014 election challenge. According to a recent U-T article, San Diego Superior Court judge Eddie C. Sturgeon ordered the decision on March 11.
In 2014 McCann won by two votes the city council seat contested between him and former Chula Vista mayor Steve Padilla: McCann had 18,448 to Padilla’s 18,446. With the assistance of attorney John Moot, Clark sued the County Registrar of Voters and McCann in an effort to ensure provisional votes were counted.
In a March 21 interview, Clark said, “I have been a seasonal poll worker for years. I was trying to be a hundred percent sure to honor the people's vote, and if the registrar could not honor them at least they could notify them. This was not about McCann. The way the votes were going he might have won. It was about honoring the votes people cast.
“As poll workers we learned about people who lost their homes or jobs during the financial crisis. We were trained that those people had rights, too…. During our training, each time we [poll workers] asked about provisional ballots they said the only way that a provisional ballot would not be counted was if someone voted twice....
“A citizen is supposed to have a right to challenge anything that might be unjust. Federal rulings say if a citizen sues on behalf of the public, they are protected as long as they don’t seek personal gain. With this new decision people are told, ‘Don’t exercise your right or you’re going to be penalized.’ The judge said his main concern was if he didn’t rule against me, pretty much, he was afraid that people who ran for political office would be intimidated. He was more concerned about those seeking political office than citizens and taxpayers….
“When I went to the hearing, I went hoping that the judge would listen to the true statement of my financial status; he said he would let me speak if I wanted to say something, but he was not going to consider any corrections to the…information that McCann’s lawyer gave him. I feel like I didn’t even get my day in court….
“I’ve got three children that are in college. I negotiated in my alimony to better care for my boys. I have a second home; that was the agreement. That house is my sole income and the only way that I can pay my mortgage.”
While McCann did not respond to an email or phone call from the Reader, he told the Star News, “We won the election, the election audit, the election recount, the election lawsuit, unanimously won the appeal with the three-judge Fourth District Court of Appeals and now we won our children’s college money back.”
Clark’s attorney Moot was surprised by the judge’s decision: “There’s no legal precedent for the ruling. No one in [Clark’s] position has ever been responsible for attorney fees before, of any case I can find anywhere.
“I don’t know what was going through the judge’s mind. He issued a four-line opinion. He didn’t provide legal analysis. His only real comment at the hearing was he was concerned about the chilling effect it had on the candidates, to which I said — there’s nothing in the law that says you should take into consideration the chilling effect of the defendant….
“At no time did this case involve Mr. McCann or anything he did. It was testing how the Registrar of Voters was counting votes; McCann was only named because the election code says you have to name the person who won the election because if the votes get counted and it changes the result then the court has to be able to issue an order.
“These same votes would be counted in the Orange County Registrar, but the San Diego Registrar did not count them. The registrar has discretion….
“McCann did not choose a San Diego firm; the firm representing him is a well-known Sacramento firm, with strong ties to the Republican party. It seems incredible that he would go after her for attorney fees when she was simply trying to clarify the law and the counting of votes….
“The judge asked the lawyers to talk about a resolution. Clark can still appeal this decision. I’m going to do everything in my power to protect her; she’s a single mother with children by no means should this be allowed to ruin her life.”