Olson Remcho Litigation Team Ends 2020 on a High Note

Appeals Court Rules That Initiatives Proposing Special Taxes Need Only a Simple Majority for Passage

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The attorneys at Olson Remcho are known for their California trial and appellate work on complex cases raising novel issues of political, governmental and constitutional importance.  Clients have included political candidates, city and county governments, state government agencies, ballot measure committees, nonprofit organizations and associations, the California Legislature, the Governor and other constitutional officers. 

“2020 was another busy and interesting year for our litigation practice, which ended the year with a high impact appellate win,” said Margaret Prinzing, a litigation partner in the firm’s Oakland office.  “Our litigators were in the middle of the fight over ballot measures, county and state tax issues, and California’s compliance with 2020 U.S. Census requirements, among a number of other important cases.”

Our litigators were in the middle of the fight over ballot measures, county and state tax issues, and compliance with U.S. Census requirements.

On December 17, 2020, a California Court of Appeal panel ruled unanimously for a Fresno community organization represented by Olson Remcho, reversing a lower court decision and finding that voter initiative measures proposing special taxes need only simple majorities for passage.  Tom Willis argued  the case before the appellate panel, appearing with Karen Getman and Ben GevercerDeborah Caplan and Lance Olson were the trial court team on the case.

Earlier in the year Willis and Robin Johansen successfully represented the California State Legislature in seeking relief from census certification deadlines from the California Supreme Court, which the Court granted on July 17.  As noted in the Court’s opinion, “As a result of the current COVID-19 pandemic . . . the federal Census Bureau has announced that census data collection and processing will be delayed. Under the Census Bureau’s modified timeline, the data required to draw new district maps will not be released to the states in time for the Commission to meet the redistricting deadlines set forth in California law. In view of the anticipated delay and to ensure that the Commission will be able to perform its redistricting function in time for the 2022 elections, the Legislature has filed an emergency petition for a peremptory writ of mandate seeking relief from the deadlines set by California law.”

The firm was also involved in a number of high-profile tax cases.  Johansen, Willis and Prinzing successfully defended the validity of a San Francisco Bay Area bridge toll increase imposed by the Legislature, with voter approval, against charges that the toll increase was an invalid tax under article XIII A, section 3 of the California Constitution. Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn. v. Bay Area Toll Authority, 51 Cal. App. 5th 435 (2020). The case is currently on hold in the California Supreme Court while the Court reviews a decision in a different related case.

Prinzing and Johansen are representing several California counties in two challenges to the unitary tax rate under state and federal law.  In AT&T Mobility v. County of Riverside, the firm is defending the constitutionality of tax rates required under the California Revenue & Taxation Code in Riverside County Superior Court.  In November, the court denied plaintiffs’ motion for judgment on the pleadings.  In BNSF Railway Company v. County of Alameda et al., a group of counties are appealing a lower court ruling to the Ninth Circuit, arguing that California’s unitary tax rate does not violate a federal statute prohibiting tax discrimination against railroads. 

As usual in an election year, firm attorneys played a leading role in drafting of a number of ballot measures and then addressing legal issues relating to those initiatives in court.  Olson, Caplan and Gevercer successfully challenged several ballot pamphlet statements by opponents of Proposition 15 (Split Roll Measure) in one action in Sacramento Superior Court and defended Proposition 15 proponents’ statements in another.   Harrison, Getman and Kristen Rogers represented proponents of Proposition 14 (Stem Cell Funding) in an action challenging statements made by opponents in ballot pamphlet arguments and obtained a favorable settlement for proponents of Proposition 14.

Finally, Harrison and Rogers successfully defended the California Coastal Commission in Spotlight on Coastal Corruption v. California Coastal Commission, which alleged claims based on conflicts of interest, California’s Public Records Act, and open meetings laws.