SAN GABRIEL -- The City Council on Friday postponed a decision on a motion
to dismiss a case against Councilman-elect Chin Ho Liao, alleging that
he does not meet residency qualifications.
The council ended the hearing at 5:40 p.m., after a day of argument and
testimony that followed five hours on Thursday afternoon. The council
decided to finish the hearing this morning.
Just before the council recessed for the day, Liao's attorney Nilay
Vora made a motion that a case against Liao be dismissed because the resident
who filed the challenge, Fred Paine, and his attorney failed to prove
that Liao does not live in the San Gabriel apartment he lists on his voter
"The challenger has provided much evidence but asks you to draw an
absurd inference," Vora said, "that somebody who owns a home
outside the county of San Gabriel whether it's just outside or in
Alaska, that the mere fact of home ownership is determinative in spite
of the fact that it is a joint tenancy, in spite of the fact that homes
are an asset in which people invest, despite the common sense that people
own homes in one place but have as their primary residence another place. "
In an unprecedented move, the council voted March 26 to hold the hearing
before the council - rather than appoint an independent hearing officer
or submit the case to the District Attorney's Office - in which both
sides would have an opportunity to present evidence and question witnesses.
Liao filed a lawsuit against the city April 3 demanding the council to
seat him, and a court date is set for May 14.
City officials met with representatives from the District Attorney's
Office after the election and provided evidence on the challenge against
Liao as well as other allegations of poll-worker misconduct in the March
5 election. D.A. officials have not yet said whether the office will open
Liao was the second-highest vote-getter in the March 5 election, with Kevin
Sawkins and Jason Pu winning the other two seats, beating out incumbents
Mario De La Torre and David Gutierrez.
Councilman John Harrington and Councilwoman Juli Costanzo both supported
Gutierrez, De La Torre and Sawkins in the election, as did Paine.
Harrington, Sawkins and Pu are all attorneys. Councilmembers were given
an opportunity after each witness to ask their own questions of the witnesses.
At the hearing, Liao was represented by Vora and a team of attorneys provided
by Asian-American civil rights legal group the Asian Pacific American
Legal Center. Challenger Fred Paine was represented by Arnold Alvarez-Glasman
and another attorney from his firm.
It was Paine who filed a challenge after the March 5 municipal election
alleging that Liao does not actually live at the address he provides on
his voter registration.
Much of the hearing Thursday was again plagued by questions from both attorneys
as to the procedures for the hearing and the difference between the council's
administrative hearing and a courtroom. Confusion about which laws applied
to the hearing evoked multiple arguments between Vora and Alvarez-Glasman,
as well as disagreements with councilmembers, at one point forcing Sawkins
to loudly say "stop" to retain order.
Attorneys also traded off objecting to nearly every other question by the
other during witness testimony.
The hearing, which did not give an opportunity for public comment, also
heard many laughs and comments from the audience, which Sawkins repeatedly
had to ask to keep quiet.
The council selected Harrington as the designated councilmember to sustain
or deny objections by the attorneys during questioning, and the city's
special counsel Bryce Gee, of well-known election law firm Strumwasser
and Woocher, served as an overseer for the hearing, answering questions
about legal and procedural issues.
The city paid for a court reporter and court-approved Mandarin Chinese
translator to be at the hearing.
Alvarez-Glasman argued that Liao has a continuing "pattern and practice"
of moving in and out of San Gabriel to run for office, providing documents
showing that Liao's bank accounts, auto insurance and other documents
contain his address on Lorain Road, just outside city limits.
"It is the position of Mr. Paine that we have demonstrated by a preponderance
of the evidence that Mr. Liao has never intended to reside in the domicile
of San Gabriel, also that more than clear and convincing evidence has
been shown that Mr. Liao from the outset is merely committing a fraud
on the City Council and this city to get a council seat," Alvarez-Glasman said.
Alvarez-Glasman called Liao, Paine and Deputy City Clerk Nina Castruita
as witnesses. Paine, who has been in the Rotary Club with Liao for years,
said he filed the complaint against Liao because Liao "pulled the
wool over my eyes once" when he ran for election in 2011, but did
not want Liao to do so again.
"I want the truth and I want to bring it out to the people of the
city of San Gabriel," Paine said.
But Liao's attorneys argued that Liao only has to prove that he lived
in the city at the time he pulled papers to run for office; and Liao,
giving testimony from what, ironically, would be his council seat, continued
to maintain that he lives in his San Gabriel apartment and intends to
buy a house in the city soon.
Liao's attorneys called Liao's wife, Tracy Huang, as well as three
of Liao's neighbors as witnesses. Huang testified that she and Liao
"don't get along" and "don't have good communication"
and that she has in the past filed for divorce. She said she and her husband
are living separately now.
All three neighbors testified that they see Liao almost every day and did
not know that he had a residence elsewhere.
The hearing will resume at 9 a.m. today in council chambers.