Judge denies lawsuit against Hermosa anti-oil argument
Two weeks ago, Hermosa Beach resident Raymond Dussault filed a Writ of Mandate lawsuit against Hermosa Beach City Clerk Elaine Doerfling and five members of Stop Hermosa Beach Oil contesting the language of the argument against Measure O appearing on the March 3 ballot. Measure O would permit oil and gas drilling in the City of Hermosa Beach.
E&B Natural Resources proposes to drill 30 wells from the city’s maintenance yard at Sixth and Valley Drive into the city’s tidelands. If voters uphold the drilling ban on March 3, the city will owe E&B $17.5 million, under the terms of an agreement approved by the city council in 2012.
Last Friday at the Stanley Mosk Courthouse in downtown Los Angeles, Judge Joanne O’Donnell denied Dussault’s petition.
“I am so relieved,” said George Schmeltzer, one of the authors of the anti-oil argument. “We were so diligent writing it so that we wouldn’t end up in court like this.”
After listening to the attorneys for both sides, Judge O’Donnell disagreed with all five of Dussault’s complaints against the argument.
“Election code requires that the argument is the opinion of the authors,” she said. “I disagree with the petitioner. There is nothing misleading about this argument.”
If O’Donnell had found in favor of Dussault, the anti-oil coalition would have been required to rewrite their argument. The legal process could have led to a delay in the March 3 election.
In a five page summary of her decision, the judge argued that “the disagreement between the parties is one properly resolved by the electorate not the Court.”
Citing the precedent case of Hull v. Rossi, O’Donnell said, “Petitions such as this should not be used to impede a political opponent from expressing its views…it should not be used as a weapon against differing…opinions.”
Stacey Armato, another author of the anti-oil argument, believes the lawsuit was an attempt to drain the resources of the group. Armato and the others went to great expense to secure the counsel of an attorney specializing in this type of case.
“We will seek attorney’s fees but as I understand it we have to schedule another hearing and it could take awhile,” Armato said.
In a press release issued by E & B’s public relations department on Friday, Eric Rose said the ruling confirmed that the ballot argument was not based on facts. “Judge O’Donnell ruled today that statements made by opponents of Measure O in their Official Ballot Statement are, as they admit in their papers filed under penalty of perjury, ‘mere opinion statements’ and therefore do not need to be changed, even if they are false and misleading.”
“I disagree that the facts should not matter,” Dussault said in the E & B statement. “However, I am confident that the Measure O campaign, based on facts and science, will succeed over their campaign based on opinions and fear.”