(November 9) By Gail Fry
On October 9, the California State Attorney General’s Office granted Arrowbear Park County Water District’s request to bring a so-called quo warranto action against its former board member, Richard Kuritz.
A quo warranto is defined as a legal proceeding during which an individual’s right to hold an office or governmental privilege is challenged.
Kuritz was elected during the August 25, 2009 election, in which he received 22 percent of the votes, closely behind Pat Oberlies, who received 23 percent. With two vacant board positions, Kuritz and Oberlies took their place on the board of Arrowbear Park County Water District (APCWD).
According to Kuritz, while on the board he started questioning some of the actions taken by the water district, such as the drilling of a well on property that didn’t belong to it, the relaying of water pipes at a cost of $230 per linear foot and a legal bill characterized as a personnel matter.
Kuritz told the Sentinel that the Arrowbear Park County Water District ended up having to pay about double for the property on which it had drilled a well, the re-piping cost the district about $100.00 per linear foot over market and the legal bill described as a personnel matter on its agenda in April 2011 was payment for water district legal counsel Joseph Aklufi preparing a complaint to file with the district attorney’s office about Kuritz’s eligibility to hold office based on his domicile.
Kuritz believes his questions led to certain individuals wanting him removed from the board, observing, “They have a little kingdom and they don’t want anyone poking around in it.”
In early 2011, complaints were filed with the district by board members, residents and a nonresident alleging Kuritz did not live in the district, making him ineligible to be on the board. Kuritz spoke of people peeping into the windows of his home and investigating his former wife.
According to California Election Code Section 349, a person’s residence for voting purposes is his or her “domicile” and a domicile is “that place in which his or her habitation is fixed, wherein the person has the intention of remaining, and to which, whenever he or she is absent, the person has the intention of returning” and “at a given time, a person may have only one domicile.”
However, California elections code section 2031 defines a person’s domicile as the residence, ”Listed as the person’s current residence address on any driver’s license, identification card or vehicle registration issued to that person by, and on file with, the Department of Motor Vehicles.” Kuritz had provided Aklufi with these documents indicating his residence as Arrowbear.
Additionally, the Arrowbear Park County Water District adopted in January 2012 a policy with regard to its residency requirements for candidates and elected board members allowing it to demand additional information including federal and state income tax returns as well as their driver’s license, car registration and original envelopes and enclosures reflecting mailing address information from credit card statements, bank statements, auto insurance policies, property tax bills, utility services statements, rental agreements and more.
San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters Communication Manager Felisa Cardona told the Sentinel, “Some municipalities and districts create their own policies, certainly” and “They have the right to create their own policies.”
According to Kuritz he provided many of the documents requested by Aklufi to prove his domicile but balked when asked for his federal tax return. Kuritz explained Aklufi had even gone so far as to ask him to sign an authorization so that Aklufi could request a copy from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) directly, and was not satisfied with just a copy of his tax return. Kuritz questioned Aklufi’s legal authority to demand he sign an authorization form for the IRS.
At its August 13, 2011 meeting, Aklufi presented the documentation provided by Kuritz to prove his domicile was in Arrowbear, including his Southern California Edison bill, water bill, bank account information, application for his post office box, California driver’s license, car registration and registration to vote in San Bernardino County.
Supervisor Neil Derry’s special projects coordinator Joseph Turner attended the meeting informing the board that to remove an elected board member it was his “understanding from county counsel this is a topic that should go to the attorney general’s office.”
Aklufi concluded the documentation provided was insufficient to establish Kuritz’s legal domicile as Arrowbear. Aklufi informed the board under Government Code section 1770 a vacancy would exist if a board member ceases to have his domicile within the district, finding “Director Richard Kuritz is not a legal resident of the district as required by law.” At the conclusion of the August 13, 2011 meeting, Kuritz was removed by a board vote.
According to Kuritz on October 24, 2011, he submitted his resignation to APCWD. On November 3, 2011, APCWD requested leave to sue quo warranto.
On October 9, 2012, the State Attorney General issued its opinion in the matter and granted APCWD’s request to sue in quo warranto. In its opinion, the State Attorney General concluded, “Whether Richard Kuritz is unlawfully holding the office of director of the Arrowbear Park County Water District because he does not reside in the sistrict presents substantial questions of fact and law warranting judicial resolution.”
Subsequently, the State Attorney General obtained a copy of Kuritz’s October 24, 2011, resignation from the board. According to APCWD’s general manager David Harich they never received Kurtiz’s resignation letter.
At its October 18 meeting, Arrowbear Park County Water District heard from Aklufi that he was now expecting a letter from the State Attorney General’s Office “advising us that in the AG’s opinion the matter is moot.”
Aklufi informed board members that the State Attorney General’s Office had delayed its opinion because it waited to receive the resignation letter from Kuritz as promised in his December 2, 2011 email.
Aklufi explained after waiting several months, the State Attorney General’s office proceeded with its review and issuing its opinion “authorizing us to proceed with our lawsuit declaring his seat vacant as a matter of law.”
General Manager David Harich read an email from the State Attorney General’s office, “As our opinion makes clear we repeatedly asked Mr. Kuritz before the drafting and issuance of the opinion to provide proof of his resignation from the district board; he never did so. You also informed us that neither your office nor the water district ever received a letter of resignation from Mr. Kuritz.”
“So, basically this is saying we have the legal right to go even further right now to make this a more solid case for us?“ vice president Mark Bunyea asked. Aklufi responded, “No, that letter takes it out of our hands now.”
“She has ruled he has no legal standing to hold a seat on this board,” Wymer remarked.
“[That is] the opinion of the attorney general, but it still was an open question until this resignation letter,” confirmed Aklufi.
General manager David Harich asked, “I have a question, Joe, if you don’t mind. One of the concerns that has come up is that this issue is not an isolated issue [and] that this has taken place prior [to this] within the district. So the question is, is it your professional opinion that this information we received recently is adequate enough where you would recommend that the district not pursue any further legal action as a point of principal if for no other reason or to clearly define the definition of domicile so we won’t have another potential problem again in the future?”
“You will always have a potential problem,” Aklufi responded. “It’s just how easy will it be resolved? We did adopt a policy, though, didn’t we on domicile of residency of prospective board members, so that was designed to ward off some of that. Now you have your official attorney general opinion which you can put in your file, which provides an awful lot of guidance to prospective candidates.”
Aklufi voiced, “I think people would be mightily impressed, you might not ever see it again if you hand that out with every candidate.”
Director Sheila Wymer added, “We’re not afraid to come after you.”
Kuritz provided the Sentinel with his December 2, 2011 email to Susan Lee of the State Attorney General’s office acknowledging he resigned as a board member of APCWD on October 24, 2011 and confirming that he would mail them a copy.
Kuritz confirmed to the Sentinel that he did in fact mail his resignation letter to APCWC on October 24, 2011 and mailed a copy to the State Attorney General’s office in December of last year. Kuritz said he did so to save the ratepayers of the Arrowbear Park County Water District money and the state taxpayers money from having the State Attorney General investigate and issue its opinion.
Kuritz explained the purpose of a quo warranto is to determine if he had a right to hold office and he believed if it went forward APCWD “would have to deal with the fact that they illegally threw me off the board.”
(November 9) By Gail Fry