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Two members of the state's High-Speed Rail Authority have been serving illegally because they hold "incompatible offices" barred by state law, the Department of Justice says in an opinion sought by a state senator.

Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, sought the opinion in response to news media accounts and complaints by former Sen. Quentin Kopp, who carried legislation creating the agency that's working on a high-speed train system linking Souithern and Northern California.

Specifically, Lowenthal asked whether Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle, a former state Assembly speaker, and former Assemblyman Richard Katz, could legally serve on the HSRA. At the time, Katz was a member of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Critics said that it was improper for Pringle and Katz to serve on the state board while directly or indirectly representing their communities in dealings on bullet train routes, station sites and other matters.

The Department of Justice opinion, published this week, backs Kopp and other critics, concluding, "In this case, each of the offices in question falls within the definition of a public office. Each is either an elective office (as is the mayor of the City of Anaheim) or an appointed membership on a governmental board (as are the members of transit districts), and all of them carry some of the sovereign powers of government. We conclude, therefore, that each of the offices in question is a public office subject to the prohibitions of section 1099."

The opinion comes too late to affect Pringle and Katz. The latter resigned from the HSRA Wednesday as the opinion was released and Pringle's term as mayor of Anaheim ends next week, so he can remain on the state board.

It would, however, affect future appointments to the authority, which has come under intense legislative scrutiny in recent months for its decisions and what critics say is an incomplete business plan for the proposed system.


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