Yolo County judge orders Councilmember Carson to pay the No on Measure H campaign $42,210 in legal fees
(From press release) In a 16-page opinion, Superior Court Judge Daniel Maguire found that Davis Councilmember Dan Carson, the honorary chairman of the Yes on H campaign, failed to prove the majority of claims he made in a lawsuit targeting the six Davis residents who signed and submitted the No on H ballot argument. The named defendants were the five No on Measure H ballot statement signers (Roberta Millstein, Juliette Beck, Michael Corbett, Stephen Wheeler, and Darell Dickey) and the No on Measure H Principal Officer and ballot statement co-author (Alan Pryor).
This is the first time in Davis that an elected city official led a developer's campaign seeking to annex farmland into the city for a subdivision. The act of bringing this lawsuit was previously condemned in a statement made by six former Davis mayors.
Those ballot-signers "achieved the greater share of success" in the lawsuit and should have most of their legal fees paid for by Carson, Judge Maguire wrote.
The No on H campaign’s defense of their ballot arguments in the face of Carson’s challenge both protected No on H’s right to free speech and the public interest in receiving the No on H argument against the DiSC development. Judge Maguire states in his order, “Our society has a deep commitment to free speech, especially in political matters, and by defending their right to make their argument in their words, the Real Parties in Interest have also enforced an important right affecting the public interest.”
"We thank Judge Maguire for his thoughtful consideration of the issues and are heartened that our grass roots campaign was vindicated and prevailed over deep-pocketed developers and politicians who tried to intimidate Davis residents with meritless litigation," said Alan Pryor, chair of the No on H campaign.
Measure H asks voters to approve the so-called Davis Innovation and Sustainability Campus, an industrial park complex on the east side of Davis that would generate an additional 12,000 car trips a day on already-congested Mace Boulevard and strain the city's housing supply.
Unhappy with the No on H campaign's criticisms of the project's many flaws in its ballot argument, Carson, with financing from DiSC developer Dan Ramos, sued the ballot-signers in an attempt to force wholesale changes and deletions from their statement. But Maguire ultimately deleted just one word and converted a "troy pound" measurement for greenhouse gases into metric tons.
Despite his loss, Carson asked Judge Maguire to make the No on H campaign pay his attorney $76,358. On Wednesday, the judge instead ordered Carson to pay a large portion of No on H's legal fees.
"I'm relieved that the judge agreed overwhelmingly with our arguments," said Roberta Millstein, one of the ballot-signers who was sued by Carson. "But there's not much reason to celebrate. This lawsuit never should have happened. Davis residents shouldn't be reluctant to speak out for fear that an elected city official might sue them."
Juliette Beck, another ballot-signer who was sued by Carson and a current candidate for Yolo County Supervisor added, “I hope Dan Carson’s heavy handed approach to selling this dinosaur of a project backfires at the polls on June 7. Voters are tired of these shenanigans and the corrosive influence of big development dollars on our democracy.”
Notably, the judge could have ordered a much higher award against Carson, had it been proven that Dan Ramos funded Carson’s lawsuit. The judge did not find Ramos’s statements before the City Council that he funded the litigation to be conclusive. The judge instead noted campaign finance reports would have been conclusive but were not submitted. These reports demonstrate that DiSC developers Ramco and Buzz Oats funded the lawsuit in full.
Ballots for next week's primary election must be returned or postmarked by June 7. Measure H is the last item on the ballot.