Disqualification Law May Apply to City Attorneys

May 2023 Alert

SB 1439, the new law which requires city councilmembers, county supervisors and other local elected officials to recuse themselves from proceedings involving a land use applicant or government contractor who has contributed over $250, continues to raise new questions. While the law was evidently aimed to extend the reach to city councilmembers and county supervisors, a new question has arisen as the FPPC begins to issue guidance: contributions to city attorneys may also require disqualification.

A strict reading of the law’s text could suggest the conclusion that disqualification may be required for contributions made to city attorneys who are elected by the voters, because the term “local agency” could arguably include a city attorney’s office. But the law could also be read not to cover city attorneys as well, because they do not make the final decisions on land use applications or contracts.

The FPPC is in the process of drafting new regulations to interpret SB 1439, and it has called out this ambiguity in the law in its staff memorandum. We will be submitting comments arguing that the FPPC should exclude city attorneys from the law. For now, and until the FPPC provides clarity as to which elected officials are covered by SB 1439, we recommend that no individual or entity with a pending land use matter make any contributions to an elected or appointed city attorney running for re-election or elected office. 

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About the Sutton Law Firm

The Sutton Law Firm specializes in political and election law, representing businesses, individuals, candidates, ballot measures, PACs and nonprofit organizations involved in the political and legislative processes on the state, local and national levels. The firm offers its clients a full range of legal, reporting and litigation services.