Justices Reject Julian Volunteer Firefighters’ Effort to Block County Takeover

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Justices of the first division of the 4th District Court of Appeal from left: Cynthia Aaron, Judith McConnell and Gilbert Nares. Photos via courts.ca.gov

By Ken Stone

A Hail Mary pass on behalf of Julian volunteer firefighters fell short Thursday when a state appellate court said no to an effort to stop the fire district’s dissolution in its tracks.

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A three-judge panel of the 4th District state Court of Appeal denied an emergency writ seeking to halt the county’s progress on taking over the Julian-Cuyamaca Fire Protection District.

Downtown attorney Craig Sherman’s effort to force Registrar of Voters Michael Vu to schedule a referendum vote on the dissolution also failed.

A 32-word statement said San Diego-based Justices Judith McConnell, Gilbert Nares and Cynthia Aaron “read and considered” Sherman’s petition for an emergency stay order.

Appellate panel’s response to Julian firefighters’ emergency writ. (PDF)

“The petition is denied,” said the decision filed Thursday and written by Nares as acting presiding justice. No explanation was given.

Sherman’s legal action aimed to counter a June ruling by Judge Kenneth Medel in San Diego Superior Court that led the registrar of voters to cancel a November vote after first agreeing that enough petition signatures were submitted to qualify for the ballot.

It wasn’t immediately clear what other legal steps could be taken by Julian opponents to qualify a repeal vote for the Nov. 6 ballot.

But an Aug. 6 public hearing before the San Diego Local Agency Formation Commission took on more importance.

The LAFCO board will consider the JCFPD board’s request — backed by the county Board of Supervisors — to have the tourist mecca’s last-in-the-region volunteer fire department come under county operation, via Cal Fire.

Mike Van Bibber, a Julian fire battalion chief put on leave in controversial fashion, reacted strongly to the court’s decision — which came only two days after Sherman’s request.

“This is a travesty!” he said via email. “It illustrates how deep the money and corruption run within our county government and justice system.”

Van Bibber noted George Washington’s warning, in his Farewell Address, that love of power, unchecked, would tend to create a “real despotism” in America.

Karen Kiefer, a former Julian paramedic who helped collect signatures, decried the “heartlessness of our trusted leaders refusing to listen to the majority of the people.”

She also cited a quote (albeit misattributed to Benjamin Franklin): “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”

Cal Fire, county officials and the Registrar of Voters Vu did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The underlying case is Southcott vs Julian-Cuyamaca Fire Protection District, filed May 14 in San Diego Superior Court.

The suit was filed on behalf of Dave Southcott, Brian Crouch, Mike Hatch, Eva Hatch and the Julian Volunteer Fire Co. Association.

Respondents include the County of San Diego, the Julian fire district, San Diego LAFCO, fire board president Jack Shelver and district secretary Marcia “Missy” Spahr.

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