COURT FINDS THAT STATE LAW REQUIRING SHERIFFS TO HAVE LAW ENFORCEMENT EXPERIENCE IS CONSTITUTIONAL

Courtesy of James R. Touchstone, Esq.

In an opinion filed on March 18, 2019, the California Second District Court of Appeal in Boyer v. Cnty. of Ventura[1]held that certain law enforcement experience and education requirements for a person to be elected county sheriff as specified in Government Code section 24004.3 were constitutional.  The Court determined that constitutional, statutory, and case law compelled its decision to affirm the trial court’s decision.

Background

In February 2018, Bruce Boyer applied to be included on the ballot for Ventura County Sheriff in the next primary election.  Ventura County Clerk Mark Lunn informed Boyer four days later that Boyer, who had no law enforcement experience, had failed to submit documents that established his qualifications to run for county sheriff, as required by Elections Code 13.5 and Government Code section 24004.3.[2]  Boyer replied that the statutes were unconstitutional and that Lunn’s refusal denied citizens the right to choose the elected officials they wanted.

In late March 2018, Boyer filed a petition for writ of mandate to compel Ventura County (“County”) and Lunn to place Boyer on the June 5, 2018 primary election ballot for county sheriff.  Boyer served the writ in April 2018, four days after County Clerk Mark Lunn was required by federal and state law to submit the ballot materials to the printer.  Lunn later declared that changing the ballots at that late a date would cost between $800,000 and $1 million, and require that 430,000 sample ballots and 1,105,735 ballot cards be reprinted.  The trial court ruled that Government Code section 24004.3 was constitutional and denied the petition. The court further determined the submission of the petition was untimely and thus barred by the doctrine of laches.  Boyer appealed, arguing Section 24004.3 violated state and federal laws.

Discussion

The Second District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s holding that Government Code section 24004.3 was constitutional. The Court of Appeal determined that “constitutional, statutory, and case law compel affirmance.”

California Constitution Article III, Section 3.5(a) provides: “An administrative agency has no power[]… [t]o declare a statute unenforceable, or refuse to enforce a statute, on the basis of it being unconstitutional unless an appellate court has made a determination that such statute is unconstitutional.”  As no such determination existed, the Court correspondingly held that Lunn could not have declared Section 24004.3 unconstitutional or have refused to enforce it.

The Court explained that, as county clerk, Lunn had a ministerial duty to follow Elections Code section 13.5.  The section states that a legally qualified candidate for sheriff must file a declaration of candidacy accompanied by documentation that the person meets the statutory qualifications to run as county sheriff as set forth in Government Code section 24004.3. Government Code section 24004.3, in turn, sets forth the law enforcement experience and education qualifications required of a candidate running for county sheriff. Specifically, a candidate for sheriff must possess one of five combinations of education and law enforcement experience – and Boyer had no law enforcement experience.

Relying on Wallace v. Superior Court’s holding that “it …is beyond the power of the Legislature to add [a particular] qualification in view of the fact that the Constitution has established the exclusive qualifications that can be required for the office of superior court judge,”[3] Boyer argued that the Legislature similarly lacked the power to “add” candidate ballot qualifications for county sheriff since the state Constitution does not require that county sheriff candidates have prior law enforcement experience.  However, the Court explained that California Constitution, article XI, section 1(b) states: “The Legislature shall provide for … an elected county sheriff…in each county.”  The Second District explained that “the Legislature enjoys plenary legislative powers unless there is an explicit prohibition of legislative action in the Constitution itself,”[4] including the express power to set candidacy requirements for the elected office of county sheriff.  The difference between the election of superior court judge discussed in Wallace and the office of county sheriff here is, the Court explained, that the state constitution itself directs the Legislature to provide for the election of county sheriff. The Court explained further that, in enacting Section 24004.3, the Legislature had used its legitimate power to set forth the present qualifications for ballot candidates running for county sheriff.  Thus, the Court found that Section 24004.3 was not in conflict with the California Constitution.

Boyer also argued on appeal that Section 24004.3 violated the First Amendment by restricting the pool of sheriff candidates to law enforcement personnel, which excluded civilian views from being expressed.  Boyer considered candidacy for office to be a fundamental right.  However, the Court determined that the free speech claim failed because the state had a strong interest in ensuring officeholder qualifications. The Court agreed with the Sixth District’s views expressed in Rawls v. Zamora pertaining to the office of county sheriff: “There can be no doubt that the state has a strong interest in assuring that a person with aspirations to hold office is qualified to administer the complexities of that office.[]And the authority of the state to determine the qualifications of their most important governmental officials is an authority that lies at the heart of representative government.”[5]  Rawls concluded that Section 24004.3 “does not significantly impair access to the ballot—there are five broad qualifications, which embrace people of varying experience.  The section does not stifle speech or dictate electoral outcome in any sense.”

The Court also found support for the trial court’s laches finding.  The Second District Court of Appeal accordingly affirmed.

HOW THIS AFFECTS YOUR AGENCY

Boyer affirms the constitutionality of Section 24004.3’s law enforcement experience requirements for county sheriff candidates.  In this case, the Court conveyed appreciation for the value law that enforcement experience confers: “There is a good reason why the Legislature has imposed an experience requirement.  To get a ‘feel’ for law enforcement, i.e., coming to a true understanding of it, you must learn about it in the field by doing it.  The People of California have been well served by personnel who have worked their way up the chain of command to leadership. Such personnel have years of practical experience.”  Boyer further settles the issue that the combinations of experience and education set forth in Section 24004.3 are crucial to administration of the complex office of county sheriff and elucidates this matter for all who consider running for such office.

As always, if you wish to discuss this matter in greater detail, please feel free to contact James R. Touchstone at (714) 446–1400 or via email at jrt@jones-mayer.com.

Information on www.jones-mayer.com is for general use and is not legal advice.  The mailing of this Client Alert Memorandum is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client-relationship.


[1] 2019 Cal. App. LEXIS 218 (2nd Dist. Mar. 18, 2019).

[2] Government Code Section 24004.3 provides:

24004.3. (a) No person is eligible to become a candidate for the office of sheriff in any county unless, at the time of the final filing date for election, he or she meets one of the following criteria:

(1) An active or inactive advanced certificate issued by the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training.

(2) One year of full-time, salaried law enforcement experience within the provisions of Section 830.1 or 830.2 of the Penal Code at least a portion of which shall have been accomplished within five years prior to the date of filing, and possesses a master’s degree from an accredited college or university.

(3) Two years of full-time, salaried law enforcement experience within the provisions of Section 830.1 or 830.2 of the Penal Code at least a portion of which shall have been accomplished within five years prior to the date of filing, and possesses a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university.

(4) Three years of full-time, salaried law enforcement experience within the provisions of Section 830.1 or 830.2 of the Penal Code at least a portion of which shall have been accomplished within five years prior to the date of filing, and possesses an associate in arts or associate in science degree, or the equivalent, from an accredited college.

(5) Four years of full-time, salaried law enforcement experience within the provisions of Section 830.1 or 830.2 of the Penal Code at least a portion of which shall have been accomplished within five years prior to the date of filing, and possesses a high school diploma or the equivalent.

(b) All persons holding the office of sheriff on January 1, 1989 shall be deemed to have met all qualifications required for candidates seeking election or appointment to the office of sheriff.

[3] 141 Cal.App.2d 771, 774 (3rd Dist. 1956).

[4] Marine Forests Society v. California Coastal Com., 36 Cal.4th 1, 39 (2005).

[5] 107 Cal.App.4th 1110, 1117 (6th Dist. 2003).





Related Recent News