Suit seeks to strike former Huntington Beach deputy attorney’s job title from ballot in city attorney’s race

A former Huntington Beach official who resigned after calling Islam a “threat” accused a retired deputy attorney who is running for city attorney of misleading voters by listing his former job title on the ballot, and he’s suing to have it changed, according to documents filed roughly two months ahead of the Nov. 8 elections.

Those running in the 2022 election had until Aug. 2 to select a job title for their official ballot designs and are only allowed to name positions they have held in the past year. Field listed himself as a city of Huntington Beach deputy attorney, according to the lawsuit. He left that job in October 2021, after he settled an age discrimination lawsuit against the city.

However, former Huntington Beach planning commissioner Michael Hoskinson claimed Field effectively stopped working for the city after he agreed to that settlement and was placed on administrative leave beginning May 22, 2021, according to court documents filed Aug. 19. That would have been about three months and two weeks shy of the period in which job titles were eligible for use as ballot designs.

“Why in the world would you list a job title that you haven’t held for a considerable amount of time … especially with the knowledge that your retirement was the result of a settlement with the city?” Hoskinson’s attorney, Matt Price, said during a brief interview on Friday. “What is that if not deceptive?”

Field and one other lawyer working for Huntington Beach at the time filed an age discrimination complaint in 2019 against their employer and incumbent city attorney, Michael Gates. The case was settled for $2.5 million. After that agreement was signed, Field cleaned out his office and never returned, according to court documents.

Hoskinson filed a lawsuit on Aug. 19 requesting that Orange County Registrar Bob Page remove any reference in Field’s ballot designation to his prior title with the Huntington Beach city attorney’s office. However, during a hearing on Friday, Hoskinson and his lawyers were instructed to address their petition to Huntington Beach election officials instead because changes to voter information related to a municipal race fall within the city’s authority.

A decision on the matter is expected following a hearing scheduled for 2 pm Wednesday, Aug. 31. That’s two days before ballots will be sent to voters, Page said.

Documents submitted by Hoskinson and his attorneys include a partially redacted copy of the city’s settlement with Field. It states that ” … Field shall not report to work, but will remain employed by the city until he exhausts all accrued … leave.” The former deputy city attorney was technically still employed by Huntington Beach until he formally submitted his retirement on Oct. 20, he said during a brief interview Friday.

Field, a Democrat, added that he is frustrated by the petition to strike his long-held position from the ballot but holds no ill will toward Hoskinson.

“It’s just who I am,” Field said. “I was an attorney for the city of Huntington Beach for 25 years, and I think that title gets as close as I’m allowed to get under the rule of ballot designation to accurately describe my position and giving a hint, at least, of my experience.”

Hoskinson served as Huntington Beach planning commissioner between 2014 and 2016. He resigned amid controversy over an hourlong YouTube videos he posted titled “The History of Political Correctness,” in which he said, “I think Islam is definitely a threat. I don’t call it a religion at all.”

Price described his client as a civic-minded citizen who has nothing personal against Field. He said Hoskinson brought forth his complaints to advocate for transparency in government.

Hoskinson’s attorney went on to say that listing Field’s current occupation as a deputy city attorney even though he has been retired for several months violates the spirit of the rules governing ballot designations, regardless of the calendar dates listed in his settlement with the city.

“The law requires candidates to list their current occupation and was designed to ensure voters get accurate information,” Price said. “It’s there so that people running for office can’t present themselves as something that they aren’t.”

It is not unusual for ballot designation complaints to be filed two months out from the election, Page said. Candidates don’t submit their listed job titles until around August. And those who wish to contest those have a 10-day window to do so, leaving a short amount of time to process and file any challenges.

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