The Second District Court of Appeal has agreed that Steven Pappas must pay Santa Barbara County Third District Supervisor Doreen Farr $528,657.50 in an election-related lawsuit that has been litigated since 2008.
Pappas, a Santa Ynez businessman, lost the supervisorial election by fewer than 900 votes and contested the election, suing Farr. He lost, and Farr then sued for attorney fees. She initially lost, but the Court of Appeal reversed the decision and ordered the trial court to award her the money.
Pappas challenged that, but the appeals court upheld that decision.
The decision is outlined in a Sept. 26 opinion written by Judge P.J. Gilbert.
Pappas contested the use of “block billing” by Farr’s attorneys, instead of itemizing each task, but the court found no issue with the billing style and affirmed the amount ordered by the trial court.
Pappas also calculated Farr’s compensation as supervisor — at about $504,000 per term, he said — and argued that the court should consider this when awarding the fees. The court had the discretion to consider this but chose not to, Gilbert wrote.
The court opinion went on to say that Farr would have lost all compensation had she not defended herself against the “meritless election contest.”
“Pappas acknowledges that had Farr not defended the election contest, he, not Farr, would be county supervisor today,” Gilbert wrote. “What Pappas does not acknowledge is that he failed to prove even a single vote was unlawfully cast in the election. The public has a profound interest in making sure those who lawfully win elections are able to take the office to which they were elected. This public interest extends to ensuring that those elected to office are not forced to withdraw because they cannot afford to defend a meritless election contest. The trial court could reasonably conclude that the public interest so overwhelms whatever compensation Farr might derive from her office that no deduction from the fee award is warranted.”
Farr kept her supervisor seat for another term with 54.9 percent of the vote after a rematch race against Pappas in June.
Pappas’ war chest this year was almost single-handedly funded by Santa Ynez Valley Journal publisher Nancy Crawford-Hall, who also funded most of the 2008 election effort and the lawsuit challenging the outcome.