As attorney Christine Linnenbach readied for a courtroom crescendo, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Richard Ulmer, once more, served as a human cooling rod.
“This matter is not just about Leanna Louie,” said Linnenbach, one of three lawyers representing the erstwhile District 4 supervisor candidate in her legal quest to get back on November’s ballot. Linnenbach’s voice began to rise: “This courtroom is filled with … ”
Ulmer interjected and curtailed Louie’s legal arguments, as he had countless times during Tuesday afternoon’s 90-minute hearing.
“As a matter of fact, this matter is about Leanna Louie. You’re not here for a campaign speech.”
And that was, pretty much, that. Shortly thereafter, Ulmer rose and ambled out of the courtroom, pledging a quick ruling after having toiled over much of the long holiday weekend on Louie’s case. “I’ll get that Labor Day back, someday,” he muttered as he strode off the bench. Linnenbach kept talking, apparently trying to make one final point, but Ulmer was gone.
It was that kind of day. And, in the subsequent ruling the judge released today, it showed: Ulmer rejected both Team Louie’s procedural arguments — that the Department of Elections did not have the authority to unilaterally strike her from the ballot — and their substantive arguments — that, contrary to the City Attorney’s findings, Louie did establish legal domicile in District 4 by the key date of May 3.
Ulmer strongly disagreed with both of those notions, and he declined to undo the Department of Elections’ Aug. 26 step of removing Louie from November’s ballot. With today’s ruling already coming a day after the ostensible deadline to finalize the ballot, it does not appear there will be time to appeal his decision.
“San Francisco has district voting for its board of supervisors,” reads Ulmer’s five-page ruling. “By law, candidates must be domiciled in the district they seek to represent for not less than 30 days before filing to run. Leanna Louie failed to provide such domicile in district four, so her name cannot appear on November 8, 2022, ballot.”
Following a series of articles from Mission Local, the City Attorney last month launched an investigation to determine if Louie had established residency in District 4 in the crucial period of 30 days prior to her June 3 candidacy declaration. It found she had not. While registered to vote at 35th Avenue in the Sunset, Louie told City Attorney investigators that she also spent time at her family home in District 10 or her fiancee’s residence in District 9. She also co-owns a home in District 11, where her teenage son, at times, appears to live on his own. And, on top of all that, Louie owns a home she rents out in Vallejo — for which she has evoked the homeowner’s exemption, which is supposedly only applicable to one’s principal place of residence.
“I think I counted six places in San Francisco she stayed at, or slept at,” Ulmer quipped during yesterday’s hearing, an ominous sign for Louie.
The Department of Elections additionally referred Louie to the District Attorney to investigate the matter of her April vote in District 10, while she was registered to vote in District 4.
Elections experts told Mission Local last month that the dual accusations of having failed to establish residency and having voted in a district where she was not registered put Louie in an unwinnable bind: The more completely she proved residency in District 4, the more unforgivable the vote in District 10. And an inability to prove residency in District 4 would result in disqualification. “Either way,” said Chris Thomas, the longtime former director of elections for the state of Michigan, “she is trapped.”
Ulmer’s ruling came not quite 17 hours after he calmly but firmly, if a bit grumpily, swatted away every argument put before him by Louie’s triumvirate of attorneys.
At multiple points in the Tuesday hearing, he cited his own decisions to counter Louie’s attorneys’ lines of arguments, asking them if they believed he’d erred in his prior judgment. In a somewhat surreal moment, Ulmer calmly noted that, only days prior, he’d agreed to strike Proposition K from the ballot. “Did I make an error?” Ulmer asked attorney Stanley Shen.
Shen, in essence, told him he had: “It would be against the ruling in Mann v. Superior Court, Your Honor.”
That didn’t seem to convince the judge, who apparently agreed with himself. Additionally, Deputy City Attorney Wayne Snodgrass noted that the case Shen cited, Mann, dealt solely with “elections for governing boards of City Colleges and school districts.” And, to boot, the statute covered in that case has since been repealed, meaning that, on multiple levels, it’s a legal non-sequitur in any discussion of Leanna Louie’s quest for a spot on the Board of Supervisors (or, for that matter, Prop. K).
Shen took proceedings in an odd direction again when he argued that 30-day residency requirements for candidates, derived from the 1975 Johnson v. Hamilton ruling, “do not reflect the reality of San Francisco” in 2022, “where there are thousands of homeless who do not have a domicile — by definition, they are homeless.”
Ulmer, who counted half a dozen places Louie stayed, including ownership or co-ownership of at least two homes, was taken aback. “You’re not saying your client is homeless? I guess the adjective is now ‘unhoused’; be careful.”
Shen replied, “If someone is sleeping on the sidewalk, it’s much harder to establish” the 30-day domicile requirement.
Ulmer, who is 68 years old, responded slowly; he seemed amused at the notion that conditions in 1975 were so alien to the world of today that they negated the concept of residency requirements for elected officials.
“You are talking to someone who was around in the 1970s,” he said. “There was a lot of movement then.” Seemingly referencing the 1967 Scott McKenzie tune, he continued: “Are you going to San Francisco? People were very peripatetic, as I see your client is.”
This exchange was also telling, and Shen’s voice seemed to take on a frustrated edge as Ulmer continued to interject mid-contention and swat away his arguments. Following Shen, Linnenbach fared little better in her arguments regarding Louie’s residency.
“You have a tough road to hoe here,” Ulmer told her bluntly. Louie had registered to be a District 4 voter in March. But, when voting from her family’s District 10 residence in April, Louie penned the District 10 address on the exterior of the mail-in ballot and signed under penalty of perjury that she was a voter in that precinct.
“Signing under penalty of perjury is a big deal,” said the judge. “Everyone knows that, not just lawyers.”
Ulmer, on Tuesday, repeatedly postulated that Louie’s renting of a room in District 4 “wasn’t dispositive” of establishing a domicile there; that is, her other behaviors indicated she considered elsewhere to be her real home.
For around one hour of the 90-odd-minute hearing, Linnenbach and Ulmer went back and forth on whether the transcript of Louie’s August interview with City Attorney personnel noted the date April 15 as being when Louie ceased staying anywhere but her District 4 address.
While Louie told City Attorney personnel in August that she sleeps at whatever home is closest to where she ends her working day, and has toiletries at most all her multiple potential residences — an astounding revelation — Linnenbach attempted to walk back this candid admission by claiming this did not apply after April 15.
Ulmer grew increasingly irritated, however, at Team Louie’s inability to locate April 15 mentioned as Louie’s real move-in date in the 74-page transcript.
“I’d like to know where it is. This is just a newly made-up date,” he grumbled at one point. “Where is April 15? It’s not in the transcript, despite the fact you told me it was in there a couple minutes ago.”
In the end, Linnenbach had to admit that, no, it wasn’t in there; there is no mention of a date that mitigates Louie’s present-tense statement, made in mid-August, that she stays at multiple places throughout the city.
That was the capper on a difficult day for the petitioners; Ulmer sauntering out of the courtroom while Linnenbach was attempting to land one final point felt fitting.
Messages for Louie and her attorneys have not yet been returned.
Incumbent District 4 supervisor Gordon Mar tweeted, “I’m glad the Superior Court stood with the City Attorney & Dept. of Elections to uphold the integrity of our election and rejected Leanna Louie’s baseless lawsuit.” Challenger Joel Engardio concurred: “The City Attorney and a judge did the right thing in upholding the integrity of our local elections.”
City Attorney David Chiu released a statement, noting that “I am pleased the Court took our investigative findings seriously and agreed with our legal conclusions.”
“Removing a candidate from the ballot is not a decision we took lightly, and we advised our client [Director of Elections John Arntz] to do so only after a thorough investigation that revealed shifting narratives and inconsistencies in Ms. Louie’s explanations regarding her residency. The Court agreed that the Director of the Department of Elections has the legal authority to remove from the ballot a candidate who does not meet required qualifications, and agreed that Ms. Louie clearly had not met her burden to prove she established legal domicile in the district she sought to represent. Thus, she will not appear on the November, 2022, ballot.”