Morro Bay man wins constitutional rights lawsuit

November 4, 2013


A Morro Bay man won his lawsuit to have several “Joe McCarthy era” sections of the California Election Code declared  unconstitutional last week, according to a San Luis Obispo County Superior Court ruling.

John Barta filed the suit against Secretary of State Debra Bowen, Attorney General Kamala Harris and San Luis Obispo County Clerk-Recorder Julie Rodewald in 2011. Barta asked the court to strike down election code sections that forbid membership on county political party committees of the Democratic, Republican, and American Independent Party without first taking and signing a loyalty oath.

Judge Martin J. Tangeman said that each of the loyalty oath code requirements were “premised upon … violations of First Amendment rights, California constitutional free speech rights, and preemption.”

Barta’s lawyers Saro Rizzo and Stew Jenkins of San Luis Obispo filed the Petition and Complaint seeking a declaration that the statutes were unconstitutional, together with issuance of an injunction against further enforcement of the sections.

Both the county and the state defendants sought to have the suit thrown out by filing separate demurrers, but Barta’s lawyers prevailed against both demurrers.

The Secretary of State and California Attorney General continued to oppose the suit until the Oct. 28 trial when they admitted that some of Barta’s claims had merit and noted that the  state would not object to the court declaring certain statutes unconstitutional.

In winning a prior case, Rizzo and Jenkins obtained the first–in-the-nation appellate court ruling holding that state legislatures have no power under the First Amendment to regulate the membership and internal operations of county political parties.

Earlier this year, Rizzo and Jenkins obtained injunctive relief and a roll back of criminal ordinances and prosecutions affecting San Luis Obispo’s homeless population in the case of SLO Homeless Alliance v. City of San Luis Obispo. Rizzo represented the Avila Alliance against Unocal Corporation in the 1990s, leading to the cleanup of Avila Beach. Jenkins recently won a First Amendment anit-SLAPP motion on behalf of Michael Brennler, former mayor of Atascadero, which resulted in the court striking a defamation lawsuit brought by Dee Torres, homeless services coordinator for Community Action Partnership for San Luis Obispo.




  1. SLOthinker says:

    A small but important victory for freedom, free speech and the curbing of government overreach.

    (11) 11 Total Votes - 11 up - 0 down
  2. probiz says:

    Well it works in Morro Bay where our Mayor and City Council have the Freedom to make bad choices about the Water Treatment Plant and the Liberty to fire effective employees. LOL.

    (9) 21 Total Votes - 15 up - 6 down
  3. Rambunctious says:

    Freedom and Liberty…It works!

    (11) 15 Total Votes - 13 up - 2 down
    • LameCommenter says:

      Rambunctious, how do you see Freedom and Liberty where elitist judges and hired gun lawyers trump the legislative branch, make law, remove law, etc. ? Marbury v. Madison was a MISTAKE, in view of liberal domination of the judiciary.

      For every deserving law courts strike down, DOZENS more are improperly stricken, or MADE, by the judicial branch.

      Just an opinion.

      (-7) 17 Total Votes - 5 up - 12 down
      • Rambunctious says:

        Freedom of association…freedom to join with like minded people unencumbered by regulation from above. The legislative branch is to legislate not mandate. “legislatures have no power under the First Amendment to regulate the membership and internal operations of county political parties”…seems simple enough to me. Don’t be so anxious to give to government more power than they are constitutionally allotted.

        (16) 20 Total Votes - 18 up - 2 down

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