(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Ah hockey off season, the time of year when everyone dons their shirt and tie and goes to court to watch a case about a rejected sales tax petition. What's that? That's only for Phoenix Coyotes fans? Yeah I guess, although we weren't the only hockey fans waiting to hear the outcome of a trial. The City of Glendale was represented today by the lawyer who previously faced off the Goldwater Institute over the Jones and Cobb lawsuit, Gary Birnbaum Stephen Tully was the lawyer for Save Glendale Now and Robert Oberbillig was the judge. (This paragraph was edited with the correct names of the lawyers.)
more after the jump
UPDATE AT THE END
Today's trial featured the City of Glendale and Save Glendale Now and it did not feature an appearance by the Goldwater Institute. Shocking right? We can all be glad that the GWI didn't step into this one, from what I saw during the last trial they probably would have done better then Save Glendale Now's lawyer. It also would have probably been a more interesting case, they would have accused Glendale of attempting to destroy democracy and hating freedom or something like that.
A little backstory, Save Glendale Now circulated a petition that would "reverse the sales tax increase" and "require the Council to receive approval from a majority of the qualified electors voting on the question at an election prior to any future sales tax increase." This sales tax would help the city finance the arena management deal with potential Coyotes owner Greg Jamison. They turned in over 4,000 signatures, over 2,000 more then they needed, but the City Clerk Pam Hanna rejected the petitions because they did not include the serial number with their name on the relevant forms, the language was misleading and confusing to voters, and it was turned in too late to go for the next election because statutes require petitions of that nature to be turned in four months before the election.
Save Glendale Now, which will be referred to as SGN for the rest of this article, felt that their inclusion of the serial number on the paperwork but not on the name spot was good enough, they didn't think that the Clerk had the authority to reject their petitions, and that their language was clear enough. SGN's entire case seemed to be built on the basis that they did stuff "good enough." It didn't seem like the SGN argued much, it felt more like it was the judge talking to Glendale's lawyer and occasionally their lawyer got to weigh in on the issue, although he didn't seem really convinced.
I'm going to break down the trial by Glendale's points of contention with SGN's petition starting with Point 1: the lack of inclusion of the serial number in the name spot.
The City argued that the laws are in place that require political committee's to write the serial number of their petition with their name because committees often have misleading names like well "Save Glendale Now." The law is in place so that people are able to identify what exactly that means. The judge questioned whether they felt that including the serial number lower on the page was substantial compliance, legal term, but Glendale argued that since they hadn't written anything there was zero compliance. This seemed to be the argument that the judge found the weakest, he seemed to believe that they may have done enough, although that doesn't necessarily mean he wasn't swayed by it.
The second argument was the big one and if you go back up you will see the important words that the City was arguing against being used, and the judge seemed to have reservations about the use of those words too. Before we got to hear that argument the judge did a quick recess so he could read Winkle V. City of Tucson. I'm a bit confused of the exact meaning of this case but it seemed to allow the City Clerk to reject the petition because the misleading nature of the description.
As I stated the judge had some reservations about the language of the description. He admitted that "reverse" could lead people to think they are getting a refund, and "any" would include things like state sales tax increases and they do not have the power to do that. SGN thought that people wouldn't read too deeply into the word "reverse" and they thought people would know that they were specifically talking about City sales tax increases. I am not sure if I convey how lopsided this argument seemed to be in favor of the City of Glendale. Once their lawyer started talking you could tell the judge liked his argument, at one point he said that it was his job to protect the electoral process and the language is overselling the petition and could make voters ask too many questions about the issue. I liked the point the judge made though, because they were overselling the petition it can appear like they have to oversell it to get people to sign it. I really think that this is the issue that is going to lead to a ruling in the city's favor.
There was a few more aspects of the case that were pretty technical so I decided not to include them. As it stands I think that Glendale is going to win this one, I'm not sure when we can expect the ruling though. I think the thing that really showed the judge's thoughts on the case was during the closing arguments, after Glendale's attorney spoke the judge turned to SGN's attorney and said "you get the last say if you need it. Do you want to say anything else" but his tone seemed to be saying "dude you're done."
On of the aspects of the case that I've seen talked about on Twitter is the referendum vs initiative argument with respect to what this petition could do. To an extent the City of Glendale addressed this, that they did not use the proper means to change law but it this did not seem to be the primary focus of questioning. This was brought about during the discussion of the language but the language itself seemed to be the primary focus of the discussion.