AG grants residency case against Martin

AG grants residency case against MartinBy BRIAN COSNER, News Review Staff Writer

The Office of the Attorney General as granted Ridgecrest resident Scott Leahy permission to pursue a quo warranto case against Vice Mayor Wallace Martin to determine whether or not he resides within Ridgecrest city limits, and therefore whether or not he is eligible to hold office.

A quo warranto is an action challenging whether someone is lawfully holding their public office.

“After carefully reviewing the parties’ submissions, we conclude that a substantial question is presented regarding [Martin’s] legal residency and that it would be in the public interest to allow a quo warranto lawsuit to proceed,” said the official opinion by Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Deputy Attorney General Lawrence M. Daniels.

Martin was elected to council in November of 2016 and Leahy, another candidate in the election, is moving to sue Martin and remove him from office for failing to be a legal resident of Ridgecrest. As a general-law city, Ridgecrest adheres to the state requirement that those elected to public office must reside within the city they represent.

Martin beat out Leahy by a narrow margin, less than 1 percent, and both candidates campaigned heavily on behalf of the Timbisha Shoshone Casino Project – Leahy in favor of the casino and Martin opposed.

Leahy claims that Martin has continued to keep his Felspar Avenue residence, just outside of Ridgecrest city limits, as his primary domicile through his campaign and his time on council. Martin entered a rental agreement for a property on Lee Avenue, within city limits, in June of 2016, before taking office. He said he was leasing it from a friend on a temporary basis in order to “follow the letter of the law” and meet the residence requirement.

He also purchased a duplex on California Avenue in October of 2016 to go the “extra step” in establishing legal residency. Martin said he split his time between his county and city properties in order to meet candidacy requirements. He said he moved into his unit on California Avenue in April of 2017 when he also changed the address on his driver’s license.

But Leahy maintains that Martin sill lives at his Felspar residence and submitted private investigator reports that stated Martin lodged at the Felspar Avenue address from May 9 to May 11, 2018, and May 14 to May 15, 2018. The investigator said Martin travelled from the Felspar residence to work and back where he stayed for the evening.

In Martin’s rebuttal, he said that a “4-day snapshot out of 815 possible days” doesn’t negate that his primary domicile is in Ridgecrest. According to Martin, he was helping his wife with her medical treatment on one occasion, and caring for his animals on the second occasion while she travelled to UCLA for a medical treatment.

Leahy also submitted sworn declaration from Lori Acton, also a candidate in the 2016 election who went on to work for the Timbisha Shoshone tribe, suggesting Martin spent very little time at his Ridgecrest duplex.

According to Acton, she lived on California Avenue with “an unobstructed view” of Martin’s alleged home from September of 2017 to June of 2018. She said on her daily routine of checking for Martin or his vehicles at the duplex, “she never observed [Martin], his wife or their cars there.” She said she would check when she drove her boyfriend’s sons to school in the morning and while driving to and from her late father’s residence.

She also says “when occasionally driving by the Felspar Avenue residence outside Ridgecrest, she would observe [Martin’s] and his wife’s vehicles parked in their driveway behind an electronic gate.”

The opinion says that a legal residence or domicile is “a place of physical presence joined with the intent to make the place a permanent home. It is the place where a person has the most settled and personal connection.”

The Attorney General’s opinion says the office has no cause to doubt Martin intended for his Ridgecrest property to function as his primary residence, but “there remains a question whether it actually became his new domicile.”

“Without purporting to resolve [Leahy’s] claim, or conclusively determine the facts at issue, we find that the totality of the evidence submitted to us raises a substantial question whether [Martin’s] domicile has been in Ridgecrest at all times while serving as council member,” concludes the opinion.

Should Martin be removed from office, it is unclear how the city would proceed. The News Review reached out to City Hall inquiring as to the city’s procedure regarding vacant public office seats.

Story First Published: 2019-06-14