UPDATE: The council on Tuesday deferred the matter to next week.
Litigation over the outcome of San Jose’s District 4 council race has prompted the city to consider allowing candidates and elected officials to raise money for their legal defense. The item comes up for discussion at today’s City Council meeting.
Approving the rule change would certainly benefit Councilman-elect Lan Diep, who was sued by Councilman Manh Nguyen, the incumbent he beat by a 12-vote margin back in June. But Nguyen hopes the City Council will revise the language of the proposal to allow accounts not only for legal defense but litigation in general.
“I hope that the council will defer this to next week,” Nguyen told San Jose Inside this morning. “It’s very expensive to pay for legal fees and court costs.”
Though two recounts affirmed Diep’s victory in D4, Nguyen questioned the integrity of the process. He sued Diep personally, alleging that illegal votes were cast and that mistakes were made in the overall tally.
“I’m not doing this for my interests,” Nguyen said. “Win or lose, it doesn’t matter. But you’ve got to do it right.”
Last week, Diep held an informal press conference outside of City Hall to call attention to San Jose’s rules preventing him from collecting money to defend himself in court.
“That means my options are either to represent myself or incur debt to answer Manh Nguyen’s lawsuit,” he wrote on Facebook after the event. “I feel this is unfair and wrong.”
San Jose banned officeholder accounts in 2007 due to concerns that they could be used as a way to buy political influence. Once they were eliminated, elected city officials were only allowed to raise campaign cash in the six months leading up to an election.
The council today will vote on whether to revoke that ban and allow legal defense contributions of up to $600 for council members and $1,100 for the mayor. Since these aren’t campaign funds, however, there’s no case law about contribution limits, according to City Attorney Rick Doyle.
Mayor Sam Liccardo asked to defer a decision to next week. In a memo submitted to the council, he suggests drafting an ordinance that would allow council members or candidates to raise funds solely for legal or administrative costs related to the outcome of an election.
“The funds must not be used for traditional campaign expenses,” Liccardo wrote, “but solely [for] post-election day activities relating directly to election disputes.”
The dispute between Nguyen and Diep has its next day in court in mid-November. Nguyen also asked Santa Clara County’s civil grand jury to investigate the ROV over suspected incompetence.
ROV spokesman Philip Chantri said he couldn’t comment on the specifics of the case, even though the registrar wasn’t named as a defendant in the lawsuit. But he contests Nguyen’s allegation that the ROV lost upward of 200 ballots.
“Obviously, due to the ongoing court case, we’re limited in what we can discuss,” Chantri told San Jose Inside. “However we have and will continue to address the concerns expressed as part of our ongoing investigation. We so far have not found any merit to the concerns put forth. We look forward to being able to discuss this further at the conclusion to the litigation.”
To read a copy of the complaint, click here.