Politics and the law collided inside and out of a Sacramento courtroom Friday on an issue made to order for such a meeting the death penalty.
Superior Court Judge Timothy M. Frawley ordered that the ballot label, summary and arguments on Proposition 34 to repeal the death penalty can proceed as printed with minor editing on a day when the campaign played out a bit more vigorously in the courthouse hallways.
Sacramento County District Attorney Jan Scully gathered with police chiefs and sheriffs and the families of some murder victims whose killers are on death row. They argued against Proposition 34 and drew from the language of Frawley's rulings to accuse the opposition of running a misleading, hyperbolic campaign.
"We can prosecute for consumer fraud," Scully told reporters. "Unfortunately, for our electorate, we have no such standards for accuracy and honesty when it comes to political agendas. Otherwise, those who have long sought to eliminate the death penalty would not be allowed to use hyperbole and opinion to persuade our voters to eliminate the death penalty."
Meanwhile, Proposition 34 supporter Jeanne Woodford, the former state corrections director who is now executive director of Death Penalty Focus, welcomed the judge's rulings. She said that repealing the death penalty would allow the state to spend $100 million or more on solving violent crimes with cash that would otherwise be spent on single-cell housing for the state's 724 condemned.
"We're saying that solving unsolved murders and rapes is a priority for this state and we need to spend our resources on that instead of wasting them on a system that's broken," Woodford said outside court.
Frawley reaffirmed from the bench Friday that the state attorney general's wording on Proposition 34's ballot label and title and summary is accurate. The language says the measure directs $100 million for investigating unsolved rapes and homicides and that it "states" from a rule already on the books that murderers must work in prison and their earnings may be deducted and sent to victims.
His second decision, also reaffirmed, agreed with prosecutors and statewide police management and rank-and-file groups that the ballot will not "redirect" $100 million in general fund money to front-line law enforcement. He said the statement is "false and misleading" because it implies the funding would come from savings when in fact it would have to be appropriated.
Frawley ordered the secretary of state's office to change the wording from "redirects" to "directs." Deputy Attorney General Ryan Marcroft said he would have no problem with the change.