Ballot language has become a political football in the special runoff election for the Assembly seat representing the eastern half of San Francisco, pitting Supervisor Matt Haney against former Supervisor David Campos.
After months of complaints by Haney, a Sacramento Superior Court Judge on Tuesday ruled Campos was misleading the public by listing his current occupation on the April ballot as “Civil Rights Attorney.” The judge determined Campos, who worked as chief of staff to District Attorney Chesa Boudin until taking a leave of absence for the Assembly campaign, must change his listed occupation to “Criminal Justice Administrator.”
“Ballot designations matter,” Haney said in a statement. “Mine is supervisor because that’s my job, and voters should know that. Campos’ ballot designation should not be civil rights attorney because that is clearly not his current job, and to list it as such would defy common sense and mislead voters.”
“We’re fine with the ultimate ballot designation,” Campos said in an interview with The Examiner. “That said, we respectfully disagree with the judge on this ruling. The fact is … what I do has everything to do with civil rights, and quite frankly, the fact that Matt Haney filed this lawsuit against Shirley Weber challenging that point says more about him than it does about me.”
The ruling comes after months of back and forth between the campaigns and the office of Weber, California Secretary of State. In December, Haney’s campaign complained about Campos’ listed occupation. Concurrently, Weber’s staff reached out to Campos asking for more information on his current occupation.
Campos responded with a letter describing his duties in Boudin’s office, arguing, “I practice civil rights law every day in our office.” He cited his work fighting racial profiling in policing and reducing gang enhancements in criminal charges as additional evidence. Campos also noted he was listed as a civil rights attorney when he ran for supervisor in 2008.
At the time, Weber found those arguments satisfactory, and allowed “civil rights attorney” to appear as Campos’ occupation on the Feb. 15 primary ballot.
After Campos and Haney qualified for the April 19 runoff election, Haney renewed his efforts to dispute Campos’ listed occupation.
In his complaint, Haney cited a provision of the elections code that forbids candidates from providing an occupation that would “mislead the voter,” as well as requirements that candidates’ listed occupation be as current as possible.
In response, Campos provided the court with sworn statements from himself as well as Boudin, attesting to the accuracy of his described occupation.
“I hired David Campos not to be a line prosecutor or because of any prior criminal trial experience but to help envision and implement the policy direction of the office,” Boudin wrote. “I believe that David Campos’s ballot designation of Civil Rights Attorney is reflective of the work we do in the San Francisco District Attorney’s office.”
Judge Shelleyanne W.L. Chang disagreed, ruling “Criminal Justice Administrator” is a more accurate description.
“The court finds that it is highly unlikely that the tasks that Mr. Campos and Mr. Boudin has outlined in their declarations is their principal occupation, versus overseeing the prosecution and making policy decisions involving those accused of a crime or enforcing the criminal laws,” Chang said at the hearing Tuesday. “So the court does find that it does meet the standard of misleading the voter.”
The semantic battle is the latest episode in an increasingly pitched campaign season between the two progressive Assembly candidates, with the June recall election of Boudin, Campos’ former boss, looming in the background.