California’s attorney general is staying clear of a lawsuit that alleges Alameda County supervisors illegally appointed someone to replace former Supervisor Wilma Chan, who was fatally hit by a car in Alameda last year.
Because he supported the appointment of Chan’s former chief of staff to her District 3 seat, Attorney General Rob Bonta has decided to recuse himself from involvement in the legal action, filed by the Alameda County Taxpayers Association.
Bonta’s press office confirmed the decision Friday, saying it was made “to avoid any appearance of a possible conflict” that doesn’t exist.
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Because the complaint, known as a “quo warranto” lawsuit, challenges whether someone has the right to hold public office, it must be reviewed and approved by the Attorney General’s Office before it can be litigated.
Jason Bezis, an attorney representing the taxpayers association, previously filed another lawsuit alleging the Board of Supervisors violated the state’s open meetings law, known as the Brown Act, by voting at its Nov. 16 meeting to appoint Brown to Chan’s seat without publicly vetting a pool of potential applicants or candidates.
The agenda for that meeting included an item calling for creation of a process to fill Chan’s seat, but the board skipped the process and voted to appoint Brown the same day.
Bezis since made it clear to county and state officials that the taxpayers association planned to also apply for the State Attorney General’s approval of a lawsuit seeking to remove Brown from Chan’s seat on grounds he isn’t qualified because he lived in Walnut Creek until moving to Oakland just days before his appointment.
Bezis had urged Bonta to recuse himself from overseeing the lawsuit because he supported Brown’s appointment to the seat, as did his wife, Assemblymember Mia Bonta. The couple and other elected officials had signed a letter in November urging the board to appoint Brown.
Now that Bonta has agreed to recuse himself, Chief Deputy Attorney General Venus Johnson will handle the case, according to his office.
Brown has said he doesn’t intend to run for Chan’s seat, and even if he wanted to, he couldn’t. The county’s charter requires elected officials to live within the district they want to represent at least a year, and Brown won’t have resided in District 3 for that long by the June primary election.
Alameda County Counsel Donna Ziegler has not responded to multiple requests for comment about why the county believes Brown was legally appointed to the seat. Bonta said in the letter supporting Brown’s appointment that the residential move was legal, although he did not cite the basis for that opinion.
Brown isn’t the only public official whose residency has trigged controversy.
After BART’s staff earlier this month tried to vacate the seat of board director Lateefah Simon for moving into an apartment complex in Oakland about a block outside her District 7 boundary, it recently backtracked. Simon said she moved from Richmond in May 2021 because of safety concerns and BART staff had assured her the new address was within her district.
Bezis and the Alameda County Taxpayers Association are rallying behind an effort to remove her as well.