Dueling Lawsuits Over CV City Attorney Candidates' Ballot Titles
Pictured: Marco Verdugo and Bart Miesfeld.
By Arturo Castañares
Both sides of the two remaining candidates for Chula Vista City Attorney have now sued each other over their respective job titles used on the official voter ballots, and the Democratic Party is considering rating one of them as "unacceptable."
On Thursday, Beau Coleman, Business Manager for the Ironworkers Local 229 union, sued the San Diego County Registrar of Voters and Chula Vista City Clerk to challenge the ballot title of Bart Miesfeld, one of the two attorneys in the race.
Miesfeld listed himself as "Chula Vista Lawyer" for both the Special Election in November and now the runoff in March.
Miesfeld and attorney Marco Verdugo are competing to become the next City Attorney of Chula Vista after Simón Silva died two months before the November 2022 election but still won the race, leaving a vacancy that had to be filled by a special election.
In September, Miesfeld sued the same two elections officials challenging Verdugo's use of "Deputy City Attorney" as his ballot designation.
The judge in that case found that Verdugo's ballot title was misleading because his actual job as a private attorney working for a law firm that represents small cities was not accurate. The judge allowed Verdugo to use "City's Attorney" which may have added even more confusion because it seems to imply he is the City of Chula Vista's attorney when he has never been. Verdugo serves as a deputy to the contract City Attorney for Coronado and Solana Beach who do not have full-time city attorneys.
Miesfeld had served as the Chula Vista's City Attorney from 2008 to 2010, as well as the City's Deputy City Attorney and Assistant City Attorney during more than 20 years working in the Chula Vista City Attorney's office.
In the current lawsuit, Coleman claims Miesfeld had not changed his address to Chula Vista when he filed a form indicating his intention to run for the position and that Miesfeld does not have a Chula Vista business license.
Miesfeld, and his wife, Corinne, a Court Commissioner at the Chula Vista Courthouse, moved to Chula Vista earlier this year.
Section 503(D) of the City's Charter requires that a candidate for City Attorney "must be a Resident and registered voter of the City at the time they are issued their nomination papers" and "must be a Resident and registered voter of the City and maintain such status throughout their term."
Miesfled met the legal requirements for residency before he received his nomination papers in August.
Miesfeld responded to Coleman's lawsuit by confirming that he met the requirements to run for the office set out by the City's Charter and that the challenge is barred by the theory of "laches", meaning the lawsuit was filed too late because Miesfeld used the same ballot title in the November election without any legal challenges.
State elections law does not allow for changes to a candidate's title between the two elections unless requested by the candidate.
The Court will hear the matter on Thursday, December 21.
Coleman's attorney for this lawsuit is local lawyer Ricardo Ochoa who also represented Verdugo in defending against Miesfeld's challenge in September. Ochoa specializes in labor and elections law, and has represented the San Diego Building and Construction Trades Council.
Coleman declined to be interviewed for this article.
Verdugo is endorsed by the the Laborers International union's local chapter, as well as the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council, a group of unions. Verdugo's campaign consultant is Dan Rottenstreich, whose wife is Brigette Browning, the leader of the Labor Council.
DEMOCRATIC PARTY ACTION
The San Diego County Democratic Party endorsed Verdugo before the November election although both candidates are registered Democrats. A third candidate, Dan Smith Diaz, a Republican, also ran in November but came in third place. Smith Diaz also lost to Silva in the November 2022 election.
Verdugo has been a member of the Party for years, but Miesfeld changed his party registration from Republican in early 2022, even before last year's election for City Attorney.
"I changed my Party registration last year for personal reasons that made me realize I agree more with Democrats on issues that are really important to me," Miesfeld told La Prensa San Diego this week.
The Democratic Party's South Area Caucus has agendized an action item for its Monday, December 18th meeting, to consider rating Miesfeld as "unacceptable", a term usually reserved for candidates who are opposed to the Party's platform or issues. A vote of 60% or more of the voting members is required to endorse or rate a candidate as "unacceptable."
Sara Ochoa, the Democratic Party's South Area Vice-Chair, send out an email to voting members of the meeting early Monday with a letter written by unnamed members who are advocating for the "unacceptable" rating, but did not offer Miesfeld an opportunity to present his arguments against the rare rebuke.
Ochoa is the wife of Ricardo Ochoa, the lawyer representing Coleman and who also represented Verdugo in the September lawsuit.
The letter raised issues over campaign contributions Miesfeld received from Adriana Shayota, an El Cajon businesswoman who was convicted of fraud then had her remaining prison sentence reduced by Donald Trump in 2021, and her brother, Andres Camberos, owner of a licensed Chula Vista cannabis shop. Both were indicted in September on fraud charges for selling wholesale items intended for distribution in Mexico.
Miesfeld has already returned the contributions.
"I don't know her or anyone of her relatives, so holding them against me is unfair given that I have no connection to them beyond receiving and returning their contributions," Miesfeld said this week.
The Party's move against Miesfeld based on campaign contributions from individuals under indictment raised immediate rebuttals from local politicos who pointed out that Verdugo included Councilwoman Andrea Cardenas as an endorsement on his November election ballot statement.
Cardenas and her brother, Jesus, were indicted in October on 12 felony counts over their fraudulent application and use of a COVID-era federal loan obtained by using the name of employees of a San Diego cannabis dispensory.
The issue with Meisfeld's Party flip was also compared to the Party's endorsement of other former Republicans, including Kelly Martinez for Sheriff last year after she registered closer to the election than Miesfeld, Nathan Fletcher who served three terms in the State Assembly before switching and becoming a darling of the Party, and Assemblyman Brian Maienschein who registered in 2020 and is now the Party's candidate for San Diego City Attorney.
The local Party's immediate past Chairman, Will Rodriguez-Kennedy, was also previously a registered Republican before switching and then being elected to lead the San Diego County Democratic Party.
The Party' South Area meeting will be held online by zoom.
La Prensa San Diego has endorsed Bart Miesfeld for the City Attorney.
Read our endorsement here.