The Coast News Group
Terra Lawson-Remer. Courtesy photo

State court: Lawson-Remer ‘Misleading’ on ballot description

REGION — On Dec. 24, 2019, San Diego County Superior Court Judge Timothy Taylor ruled that San Diego County Supervisor District 3 candidate Terra Lawson-Remer must change her job title on the March 3 primary election ballot, calling it “misleading,” in a case brought by supporters of her opponents in the primary election.

Lawson-Remer, one of the two Democratic Party candidates for the officially nonpartisan race to unseat Republican incumbent Kristin Gaspar, initially listed herself as an “Economist/Environmental Attorney” as her ballot designation. But Judge Taylor ruled that, because Lawson-Remer is licensed to practice law in New York and not California, she must remove the title from the ballot.

“(Lawson-Remer’s] chosen designation would be misleading, as it would cause a reasonably prudent voter to assume (she) is a member of the California Bar when she is not (and by her own admission has never been),” wrote Taylor, adding that only members of the State Bar of California can use the words “attorney,” “lawyer” or “counselor at law.”

“The only way (she) could honestly refer to her status as an attorney would be to describe herself as a ‘New York Lawyer,” Taylor said.

In the aftermath of the ruling, Lawson-Remer changed her description to “Economist/Community Organizer.” She told The Coast News that she still believes the title will resonate with voters, comparing it to President Barack Obama, who had a background as both an attorney and community organizer.

“I am honored that our campaign is the No. 1 target of a Republican Super PAC,” she told The Coast News. “We’re being targeted because they know we will put the public interest over special interests in San Diego County. My dedication is to serve my community in every possible way.”

Plaintiffs who support Gaspar and Lawson-Remer’s Democratic Party challenger in the race, Escondido City Councilwoman Olga Diaz, brought the legal challenge. Court documents show that Melinda Vásquez, a volunteer for the Diaz campaign, also brought her own complaint to the San Diego Registrar of Voters on Dec. 12, a week before the plaintiffs brought their legal complaint.

“If Ms. Lawson-Remer doesn’t refer to herself as an Environmental Attorney on her CV, or her campaign website where she has the control to disclose her work history, then why would she be referring to herself as an Environmental (sic) to the voters?,” wrote Vásquez. “Additionally, the title of Environmental Attorney implies that Terra is licensed to practice law in California as she is a second-generation resident growing up in San Diego.”

Vásquez said that she and the legal team did not coordinate and she had known Lawson-Remer did not have her license to practice law in California since the summer. She also said that she had a familiarity with ballot designation law from her own time as a candidate running for the California Assembly during the 2016 election cycle.

Centrist — and until recently Republican Party consultant, before he left the party — Ryan Clumpner, also said that the two teams did not coordinate.

“This is what campaigns do, whether candidate or PAC,” he told The Coast News. “I’m more surprised that Gaspar’s campaign didn’t act than I am that Diaz’s campaign did.”

Clumpner helped to shepherd the legal efforts through his recently formed political action committee, Community Voices San Diego. Clumpner, the publication Voice of San Diego reported, donated $100 to Diaz’s campaign

“I admire the spin Terra used to concoct this ballot designation. I’ve never seen anything like it,” Clumpner told The Coast News. “But it was a false statement and would have grossly misled voters as to her qualifications. The plaintiffs and I are pleased that a court agreed, took swift action to protect the voters, and held Terra accountable.”

Clumpner formerly worked as executive director for the Lincoln Club of San Diego County, a pro-business political advocacy group.

In the legal case, the plaintiffs received representation from the Sutton Law Firm, a Los Angeles-based firm. Sutton also recently represented the company Newland in a successful ballot language lobbying effort to amend language on the looming primary election referendum vote over its proposed Newland Sierra housing development proposal, slated to sit on county land between Escondido and San Marcos.

According to campaign finance disclosure documents, Community Voices San Diego owes $7,500 in debt to Sutton Law Firm so far for its legal work on the case, as of Jan. 14. Lawson-Remer received representation from the firm Strumwasser & Woocher.

Clumpner said the legal team will next seek legal fees for the case.

“No one in the public should have to bear the cost of correcting her attempt to mislead voters. If the court disagrees, I will have to raise new funds to cover the debts incurred,” he said.

In their complaint, the plaintiffs argued not only against Lawson-Remer’s attorney description, but also her economist designation.

“In sum, talking to clients about ‘labor markets, automation, property rights, economic development and econometrics’ does not make one an Economist, and preparing research papers in graduate school, while pursuing a PhD in philosophy, also does not make one an Economist,” they wrote. “This term is at best misleading and at worst false — and in either case not allowed by the Elections Code.”

Responding to the complaint, Lawson-Remer’s team posited that regardless of status with the state bar, her training in law school and graduate school — and how that applies on a day-to-day basis to the work she does — merit the professional titles she had placed on the ballot.

“(O)nce acquired, a person retains a ‘profession’ throughout her lifetime, because it depends not on the specific nature of the person’s present job or employment activity, but on the education, training, and special knowledge that the person possesses,” her legal team wrote, pointing to the definition of “profession” found in 20714(a)(1) of the California Code Regulations. “Whether Ms. Lawson-Remer qualified as an ‘attorney’ due to her membership in the California or the New York Bar should be of no consequence; she is entitled to consider and call herself an ‘attorney’ in either case.”

Lawson-Remer has a PhD in political economy from New York University and works as a research fellow studying those topics at University of California-San Diego at the Center on Global Transformation, which works to “disseminate research that addresses global economic and technology transformation,” according to its website.

Robert Otille — a San Diego attorney with experience litigating a slew of ballot language challenges — said legal challenges of this sort are a “cottage industry” for a handful of California law firms during election season, including the ones involved in this case. But done right, he added, they can leave a big imprint on local electoral races.

“The reason this becomes important to people on lower-ballot races is because most people don’t know anything about lower ballot races except for what they read in the voter pamphlet or what they see on the actual ballot,” he said. “Sometimes all they hear about the candidate is those three words … So, a lot of candidates believe that it’s worth a massive expenditure to fight these ballot designation fights.”

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Ryan Clumpner as a conservative. The Coast News regrets the error.


Melinda K. Vásquez, Esq. January 25, 2020 at 12:38 pm

Steve, I commend you on using facts to support the sequence of events you portray in THIS article. It is a start in the right direction towards journalistic integrity. However, it doesn’t seem as if you have a strong taste for material facts based on the totality of your political pieces. I suggest you learn about causal connections between facts – and steer away from conjecture. It might get you access to politicos in a race but it will ultimately hurt your reputation as a fact finder. I do find it interesting that you require hard facts to support the position of one side, and mere hearsay from invisible sources to support the other side. It seems that your bias is still an obstacle for you to overcome.

Carmen Miranda January 20, 2020 at 12:24 pm

Chris, is in it like having Pinocchio throwing rocks at someone for lying? Terra is the most honest, caring, intelligent person I know.

This is just another example on how the Escondido Democrat Club comes together to tear another Democrat. I really do think that we should change the name to Olga’s Club.

It’s like the Mean Girl’s Club. I experience it and it’s sad because our young kids are watching. My daughters still remember the lies that came out of Olga Diaz. Accusing my family and I of vandalism to her home. Accusing my daughters and husband of trying to hurt her.

So please let’s not forget who Olga Diaz is. Our daughters don’t want anything to do with the Dem. Club of Escondido because they saw how dirty and nasty it can be.

Christine 'Chris' Nava January 19, 2020 at 1:13 pm

Terra’s record of stretching the truth leaves many other unanswered questions; one relates to her claim to have worked under the Obama administration. Does that mean she was on his team of advisors? Or does it mean that she happened to be working in DC during the Obama administration? Another claim – Flipping the 49thCongressional District – is questioned by many who feel that it was a group effort, not the work of an individual. It appears that honesty is not one of Ms.Lawson-Remer’s strong suits

ernest moreno January 18, 2020 at 9:24 pm

you already have my comment

Ernest Moreno January 18, 2020 at 5:28 am

Terra also lied about being a farmworker organizer. When I wrote to her campaign asking where she had been a farmworker organizer, Luca, one of her campaign staff, wrote back that she had been a part of a group that supported farmworkers. He stated that this was at Yale during the late nineties. A support group for farmworkers and being a farmworker organizer are completely different animals. Organizers are in the fields, in the heat and cold, in the camps, They face police harassment and arrest, company goons, court injunctions and arrests, long 12 hour or more days and very little compensation. A support group on a college campus doesn’t deal with any of that.

Carmen Miranda January 20, 2020 at 12:01 pm

I smell Olga Diaz all over this. To say that they did not plan to go over Terra is a lie. This is how Olga Diaz works.

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