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Opposing candidates for Huntington Beach city attorney’s office face off in legal dispute over gun-control petition

In late May, a few weeks after filing a lawsuit against a resident circulating a gun-control petition, Huntington Beach withdrew its complaint. But that exit did not put an end to the city’s legal issues regarding the suit.
On Monday, July 2, Daniel Horgan, 42, filed a motion in Orange County Superior Court to recover attorney fees and other expenses totaling $14,385.16.
The motion calls the city’s lawsuit “frivolous” and a violation of Horgan’s First Amendment rights.
As an added twist to the drama, the opposing lawyers, City Attorney Michael Gates and constitutional attorney Jerry Friedman, are running against one another for Gates’ office in the November election.
Each claims the other candidate’s actions are politically motivated.
“This is a political stunt,” Gates said. “Friedman is trying to get fees from taxpayers, which, at the end of the day, is not going to help his campaign.”
For his part, Friedman said, “Mr. Gates is spending public money to fan his base – and now he will cost the city more money.”
At the root of the battle is an ill-fated initiative demanding “all semi-automatic and automatic guns and rifles to be turned in to the City of Huntington Beach Police Department by Jan. 1, 2019.”
Horgan submitted it to the City Clerk’s office for certification last November. Hours after the Feb. 14 mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla., the mortgage broker decided to pay a mailing company to disseminate 4,000 initiatives.
By April 24, when Horgan was served with the complaint, the petition had attracted only about 650 of the 12,000 signatures needed to qualify for the November ballot. The suit claimed the “unconstitutional” initiative could “waste and expend taxpayer dollars to verify the signatures,” and asked for reimbursement of attorneys’ fees.
Three weeks later, Horgan, through Friedman, responded with an “anti-SLAPP” motion – a procedure designed to protect freedom of speech — seeking dismissal of the city’s lawsuit.
Soon afterward, Huntington Beach canceled its lawsuit after Horgan said he could not meet his June deadline for signatures. That made the anti-SLAPP hearing, scheduled for June 22, moot.
Still, Friedman said, the damage was done.
“Mr. Horgan suffered mental anguish and financial loss,” he said. “When you beat a hornets’ nest, you can’t just put the hornets back in by dropping the lawsuit.”
On May 30, Friedman offered to stop future proceedings and settle out of court “for a reduced fee” of $7,500, but the city attorney’s office declined.
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“It was an excessive demand,” Gates said. “We would have prevailed (in the anti-SLAPP hearing), so there was no reason for us to settle.”
Horgan’s motion for attorney fees might not resolve the dispute regardless of the court’s decision.
“I’m dealing with the aftermath and mulling over my legal options,” Horgan said. “I have been victimized for the benefit of the city attorney’s political ambitions.”
Despite the ongoing saga, Gates said he has no regrets about the lawsuit against Horgan: “It was the right thing to do.”
Source: Oc Register

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