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A Sacramento judge ruled this morning that election officials appropriately verified signatures for the November ballot, a decision that should allow Gov. Jerry Brown's tax initiative to take the top spot unless opponents file another challenge today.

Attorneys for wealthy civil rights lawyer Molly Munger argued today that Los Angeles County should have alerted the California Secretary of State's Office immediately when her initiative qualified, rather than waiting to include her measure in a group with three other proposals, including Brown's. But Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael P. Kenny determined that the county did nothing wrong.

Munger's campaign announced this afternoon it would not appeal the ruling. But Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, said he is considering a separate appeal that focuses on whether Brown and lawmakers illegally passed a majority-vote bill to move the governor's measure to the top of the November ballot, an issue that was barely mentioned in this morning's hearing.

"The governor's initiative leapfrogged above ours, which gave his initiative an unfair advantage," said Nathan Ballard, spokesman for the Munger initiative. "Look, the deck may be stacked against us, but we've got a good ballot measure here that's actually going to help California schools."

Dan Newman, a spokesman for the Brown tax initiative, responded in an e-mail, "The Court rightly rejected this frivolous lawsuit. Now it's time for the Munger-Jarvis coalition to cease its scorched-earth attack on the electoral process."

The order in which initiatives qualify generally determine where they appear on the ballot, and political experts believe that measures slated higher perform better. Secretary of State Debra Bowen said last month that Brown's measure was the ninth to qualify for November, while Munger's was 10th.

Kenny said counties have some discretion in how they verify the signatures on petitions. He suggested that if he were to rule for Munger, he would in essence be telling counties exactly how they must run their qualification procedures.

"But aren't you asking me to essentially micromanage the registrar's office?" he asked Munger's attorneys.

The morning's hearing was entirely focused on arguments surrounding Los Angeles County's procedures and whether Munger should have sued the county rather than the state.

Lawyers for the defense, including one for the Legislature, urged Kenny to settle the ballot order dispute without weighing in on whether the majority-vote bill passed by lawmakers was unconstitutional. Munger's attorneys never discussed the legislation, Assembly Bill 1499, and Kenny did not rule on that matter. The Legislature asserted last week that it has the authority to determine for itself what matters are eligible for majority-vote budget bills.

Post updated to include quotes from the campaigns and news that Munger will not appeal the decision.


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