Republican challenge to ‘sanctuary city’ petition lacks legal merit, judge rules

City clerk followed the law in certifying petition

People’s Defense Initiative, the organization behind the ‘sanctuary city’ petition initiative, celebrates a ruling in front of city hall that favored the proposed ordinance’s certification by the Tucson City Clerk Roger Randolph.

In a blow to Republican challengers of the sanctuary city petition initiative, Pima County Superior Court Judge D. Douglas Metcalf ruled in favor of the city clerk’s office and the proposed ordinance’s sponsors Friday afternoon.

Challengers of the city clerk’s certification of the petition claimed Tucson code and charter provisions violate the Arizona Constitution and existing state law, Judge Metcalf disagreed.

“Plaintiffs [challengers] argue Section 19-143(A) requires the City to use the formula provided by that statute. But that is not what the statute says, when read as a whole, which the Court must do when interpreting it.”

“Because the City followed its code and charter provision in calculating the number of qualified electors, it did not commit an error for which this Court can grant relief,” Metcalf said in his ruling.

Judge Metcalf, in total, ruled on six legal questions raised by the challengers at a recent hearing and found none of their claims to have legal justification, including that the city clerk did not conduct a thorough enough review of the petition signatures. Tucson Del Sur News reported on the hearing earlier this week.

“There is nothing in the record to show the City Clerk did not follow Tucson City Code § 12-121 in his review, much less than his review was arbitrarily and capriciously undertaken. Isolated mistakes do not render the Clerk’s review arbitrary and capricious,” Judge Metcalf said.

Other local media has reported the plaintiffs are “discussing an appeal” to challenge the ruling in the Arizona Court of Appeals, but Tucson Del Sur News could not verify this by the time of publication.

People’s Defense Initiative held a press conference in front of city hall where Billy Peard, crafter of the initiative’s language, reiterated the judge’s ruling and called the Republican challenge “legally baseless.”

“Over the course of the past several weeks we’ve heard from our opponents in public discourse that the underlying proposition, Proposition 205, has legal flaws in itself. Among those, we’ve heard that the proposed ordinance is contrary to state law, contrary to the constitution and would risk the loss of federal funding and risk many ongoing law enforcement efforts here in the city.

“That is false, and we intend to demonstrate to the voters … in the next few months that our proposition is carefully thought out, carefully written within confines of state law.

“We expect to have a robust debate in the next two months as this advances to the ballot, we encourage a lively dialogue and we intend to convince voters here in Tucson why Prop 205 is beneficial not only to our immigrant brothers and sisters in the community but to all Tucsonans,” Peard said.

Zaira Livier, executive director of People’s Defense Initiative, said she was proud of her team of organizers that helped put the initiative on the ballot and expressed confidence Tucson voters will approve the initiative come November.

“I think it’s important to note that this is a historic campaign. This has never been done in the history of this nation where a community comes together to organize itself around sanctuary city, to propose its own laws when our elected officials have failed to do so here,” Livier said.

In a request for comment Principal Assistant City Attorney Dennis McLaughlin, who argued the case for the city, said he would defer to City Attorney Mike Rankin, who earlier in the year wrote a legal analysis opposing the ordinance. Rankin could not be reached by the time of publication.

UPDATE: City Attorney Mike Rankin said in an email, “I’m proud of the outstanding work the attorneys in my Office (Dennis McLaughlin and Jennifer Stash) did in defending against this challenge.

“It is important to note that this case has nothing to do with the content, subject matter or merits of the initiative itself. Instead, the lawsuit challenged the provisions of the Charter and Code of the City, and the actions of the City Clerk – based on the guidance from the City Attorney’s Office – in applying the law as it relates to how local initiatives get on the ballot for the voters to consider.

“Judge Metcalf’s ruling is very clear: the City Clerk correctly applied the law. If the Plaintiffs choose to seek further judicial review in this case, we will continue to defend the City Charter and Code and the actions of our City Clerk.”

Alex Kack, nationally recognized as ‘Green Shirt Guy,’ attended the press conference and is an organizer with People’s Defense Initiative.