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Parties Reach a Settlement in Top-Two Primary Lawsuit

by Lucas Eaves, published

The parties in Field v. Bowen, one of the legal challenges to the nonpartisan top-two primary in California, reached a settlement over the amount of attorney's fees awarded to the defendants/interveners.

Californians to Defend the Open Primary (“CADOP”) and the Independent Voter Project (“IVP”), the proponents and supporters of the Top Two Open Primary Act, announced Thursday that they have agreed to a settlement resolving CADOP and IVP’s claim to $243,279.50 in attorneys’ fees, awarded by the San Francisco Superior Court following CADOP and IVP’s successful defense of the measure.

Under the settlement:

  • The plaintiffs agreed to dismiss their appeal of the fee award.
  • CADOP and IVP agreed to cut their claim to fees by approximately 60 percent to $100,000. CADOP and IVP also agreed that plaintiffs could pay that amount in several installments over two years rather than as a single lump sum.
  • If the $100,000 is paid in timely fashion, CADOP and IVP have agreed to forgive the remaining $143,279.50 in full.

This settlement will end a long lasting lawsuit in which the plaintiffs challenged the constitutionality of California's new nonpartisan electoral system.

Six plaintiffs (Mona Field, Richard Winger, Steve Chessin, Rodney Martin, Jeff Mackler and Jennifer Wozniak) brought suit in 2010, alleging that two provisions of Proposition 14’s implementing legislation were unconstitutional and, as a result, Proposition 14 itself could not be implemented until the Legislature enacted corrective legislation. Plaintiffs sought to have the pre-existing partisan primary system reinstated in the meantime.

The First Appellate District in San Francisco rejected plaintiffs’ claims as a matter of law in Field v. Bowen, 199 Cal. App. 4th 346 (2011).  After judgment was entered the trial court ruled that the plaintiffs must pay CADOP and IVP’s attorneys’ fees for their role in defending the public interest.

Following the award, the defendants, including the Independent Voter Project, made efforts for a settlement offer which would have relieved the plaintiffs of their obligation to pay any attorney fees. In exchange, the plaintiffs would have to agree not to continue challenging current claims or to bring forth new causes of action.

On March 29, 2013, the plaintiffs filed an appeal against the ruling on attorneys fee, thereby rejecting the defendants' original offer. This week's settlement brings a final conclusion to the Field v. Bowen case.

You can read the settlement here.

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