The Republican-endorsed candidate for San Diego County assessor, recorder and county clerk has been campaigning with signs calling himself a taxpayer advocate. Not a problem.
But the 41-year-old* office-seeker, attorney Jordan Zev Marks, also wanted his ballot designation to be “Assessor Taxpayer Advocate.”
No go, said county Registrar of Voters Cynthia Paes. So Marks sued for a court order to make it so.
On Thursday, Superior Court Judge Keri Katz is expected to side with Paes and tell Marks he’ll have to settle for an alternate Paes-approved ballot label — “Chief Deputy Assessor.”
Marks — whose opponent Nov. 8 is former San Diego councilwoman and mayor candidate Barbara Bry — is represented by Guillermo “Gil” Cabrera (himself a former candidate — for San Diego city attorney in 2016).
On Aug. 18, Cabrera filed suit for a so-called peremptory writ of mandate arguing that an “error is about to occur in the printing of a ballot.”
He wrote: “Publication of the ballot with the challenged and unlawful contained ballot designation within it will result in irreparable injury to the voting public and Petitioner … for which monetary damages would be inadequate.”
But Katz, who granted a “priority” hearing for 1:30 p.m. Thursday, issued a tentative ruling Wednesday that denied his request to be labeled Assessor Taxpayer Advocate.
Katz agreed with the county registrar of voters.
“The court finds [Paes] establishes a substantial likelihood that a reasonably prudent voter would be confused by the term ‘Taxpayer Advocate’ because the term does not identify the taxpayers for whom [Marks] is an advocate,” Katz writes in a three-page filing.
Though Marks says he is “the taxpayer advocate for the assessor,” Katz continued, “such role is not conveyed by the term ‘Taxpayer Advocate.'”
Thus she said a “substantial probability” exists that his use of the term would confuse voters about Marks’ profession, vocation or occupation.
In fact, Marks works for the current clerk, Ernest Dronenburg Jr., who at age 79 is retiring at the end of his term in January 2023 after 12 years in the job.
In early May, Dronenburg promoted Marks to chief deputy assessor/recorder/county clerk.
A county announcement said Marks, with the office nearly five years, “has ensured taxpayer fairness, provided education to a variety of community and business organizations in the county, established community partnerships to advance office programs (DVETS, FBNs, HOEX, Proposition 19 reforms, and Business Property filings, etc.), assisted in improving office processes and customer service for taxpayers, informed media outlets on key office events, and reviewed legislative proposals and new laws for effective implementation.”
It added: “Jordan will continue to head the Office of Taxpayer Advocate in his new role and assume new responsibilities in the [office].”
Marks replaced Rolf Bishop, 73, who pleaded guilty in May to violating conflict-of-interest laws — recommending that a contractor hire his wife’s company to work on county projects. His sentencing is Sept. 29.
On Aug. 23, Dronenburg, a fellow Republican, went to bat for his would-be successor, telling the court that Marks was a licensed appraiser, “and as such qualified to and does perform assessments as part of his job duties. A major portion of [his] duties and … work activities includes advocating for taxpayers. As such ‘Assessor Taxpayer Advocate’ is a fair and true description of [his] work.”
Paes said she couldn’t comment on pending litigation. Bry and Cabrera also had no comment.
*An earlier version of this report incorrectly gave 31 as Marks’ age.