July 22, 2011

Redevelopment case raises interesting jurisdictional issue

The draconian state budget isn’t hurting only the courts. The list of victims is a long one and it includes California’s redevelopment agencies. According to the Associated Press, “The Legislature approved two budget bills in June that would eliminate the state’s 400 redevelopment agencies by Oct. 1. It allowed local governments to launch new agencies if they agreed to pay a share of property taxes to local governments and schools, replacing money the state pays.” Over $1 billion is potentially at stake.

The agencies’ supporters have challenged the two bills in a writ petition filed this week in the Supreme Court. Aside from the important substantive issues raised in the case — California Redevelopment Association v. Matosantos — there is an interesting question about the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction.

The agencies’ supporters bypassed the lower courts by filing their writ petition directly in the Supreme Court. In doing so, they invoked the court’s original jurisdiction under article VI, section 10, of the state constitution, which authorizes the court to exercise “original jurisdiction in proceedings for extraordinary relief in the nature of mandamus, certiorari, and prohibition.” The filing, however, could violate one of the bills being challenged, which includes a provision stating that, “[n]otwithstanding any other law, any action contesting the validity of [the legislation] . . . shall be brought in the Superior Court of the County of Sacramento.”

In their writ petition, the agencies’ supporters claim the bill’s jurisdictional limitation is inapplicable because a writ petition is not an “action,” but a “proceeding.” Alternatively, they suggest that, if the bill restricts the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction, the limitation might exceed the Legislature’s constitutional authority.

The writ petition asks for a stay by August 15 of the challenged legislation and for a resolution of the entire case before December 20. The court has asked for the fax filing of a preliminary opposition by noon this Wednesday, July 27, with the petitioners allowed to file a reply by 5:00 p.m. two days later.

The respondents are Ana Matosantos (California’s Director of Finance), state Controller John Chiang, and Alameda County Auditor-Controller Patrick O’Connel (as representative of the class of county auditor-controllers). It will be interesting to see if the respondents object to the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction to even consider the merits of the writ petition.

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