News

Former East Palo Alto City Council candidate loses election contest lawsuit

Webster Lincoln sought to annul Antonio Lopez's win

A San Mateo County Superior Court judge on Wednesday ruled that East Palo Alto City Council member Antonio Lopez did not violate election laws during his campaign, further cementing his seat on the council after a narrow victory last fall.

East Palo Alto resident Webster Lincoln was 69 votes shy of election to the final seat on the City Council, which was secured by Antonio Lopez, last fall. Courtesy and file photos.

"This is not just a personal victory for me but for the city of East Palo Alto — it is a reminder that losing candidates cannot sue their way into office," Lopez said in a statement during a virtual press conference on Thursday. "At last, I can fully devote my time and energy not to litigate, but legislate. Now, 91 days after I took my oath of office, without the distraction of a frivolous lawsuit, I can completely invest in the concerns of my community."

The lawsuit filed on Dec. 7 by candidate Webster Lincoln, who was 69 votes shy of winning a council seat, accused Lopez of interfering with the Election Day process by campaigning within 100 feet of a voting center and ballot drop box, while offering voters free tacos.

"The Court finds that Lincoln did not prove by clear and convincing evidence … that Lopez committed an offense against the elective franchise," Judge Danny Chou, who presided over the case, wrote in a proposed statement of decision filed March 10. "Accordingly, the Court denies Lincoln's Statement of Contest and declines to annul the City Council election or order any of the other relief sought by Lincoln."

Lincoln did not respond to requests for comment.

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In a trial brief, Lopez's attorneys argued that there was no evidence that Lopez bribed in-person voters in a deliberate attempt to influence their vote and instead was giving free tacos near the voting center at Saint Francis of Assisi Church "to encourage the community to vote, and not for the purpose of procuring his election."

"Ultimately, in my view, this case was about democracy," said Ann Ravel, a former Democratic commissioner of the Federal Election Commission, who represented Lopez pro bono, in an interview. "It was an attempt by Mr. Lopez's wealthy opponent to essentially nullify the will of the people in East Palo Alto by making these spurious claims."

The first day in the trial over a lawsuit brought by former East Palo Alto City Council candidate Webster Lincoln held virtually in San Mateo County Superior Court on Feb. 16. Screenshot from Zoom.

Eleven witnesses were brought before the trial, including some city and county staff responsible for overseeing election conduct and who have previously told this news organization that there were no signs of illegal electioneering when residents first brought up the issue on Election Day.

Martin McTaggart, an elections specialist supervisor for San Mateo County and one of the trial witnesses, testified that although there may have been "uncertainty" and "confusion" over the 100-feet buffer between the location of the taco truck and the voting center as well as a vote-by-mail ballot box, which was later moved due to concerns of its proximity, no one had "intentionally" violated election laws.

The judge's written decision did note: "Any illegal electioneering that may have occurred at St. Francis was due to a mistake made by County election officials."

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During his press conference on Thursday, Lopez said he had not yet thought about pursuing a countersuit against Lincoln.

"Webster, let's come together and focus on the issues that plague our loved ones," Lopez said during the conference as a peace offering.

Lopez added that his immediate focus lies on vaccinating East Palo Alto, an issue he advocated for during a press conference earlier this month.

Because the verdict was delivered through a proposed statement of decision, both parties have until March 17 to object to the results of the case and request a hearing.

Lincoln's attorney, Mark Rosen, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Former East Palo Alto City Council candidate loses election contest lawsuit

Webster Lincoln sought to annul Antonio Lopez's win

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Thu, Mar 11, 2021, 9:49 am
Updated: Thu, Mar 11, 2021, 2:00 pm

A San Mateo County Superior Court judge on Wednesday ruled that East Palo Alto City Council member Antonio Lopez did not violate election laws during his campaign, further cementing his seat on the council after a narrow victory last fall.

"This is not just a personal victory for me but for the city of East Palo Alto — it is a reminder that losing candidates cannot sue their way into office," Lopez said in a statement during a virtual press conference on Thursday. "At last, I can fully devote my time and energy not to litigate, but legislate. Now, 91 days after I took my oath of office, without the distraction of a frivolous lawsuit, I can completely invest in the concerns of my community."

The lawsuit filed on Dec. 7 by candidate Webster Lincoln, who was 69 votes shy of winning a council seat, accused Lopez of interfering with the Election Day process by campaigning within 100 feet of a voting center and ballot drop box, while offering voters free tacos.

"The Court finds that Lincoln did not prove by clear and convincing evidence … that Lopez committed an offense against the elective franchise," Judge Danny Chou, who presided over the case, wrote in a proposed statement of decision filed March 10. "Accordingly, the Court denies Lincoln's Statement of Contest and declines to annul the City Council election or order any of the other relief sought by Lincoln."

Lincoln did not respond to requests for comment.

In a trial brief, Lopez's attorneys argued that there was no evidence that Lopez bribed in-person voters in a deliberate attempt to influence their vote and instead was giving free tacos near the voting center at Saint Francis of Assisi Church "to encourage the community to vote, and not for the purpose of procuring his election."

"Ultimately, in my view, this case was about democracy," said Ann Ravel, a former Democratic commissioner of the Federal Election Commission, who represented Lopez pro bono, in an interview. "It was an attempt by Mr. Lopez's wealthy opponent to essentially nullify the will of the people in East Palo Alto by making these spurious claims."

Eleven witnesses were brought before the trial, including some city and county staff responsible for overseeing election conduct and who have previously told this news organization that there were no signs of illegal electioneering when residents first brought up the issue on Election Day.

Martin McTaggart, an elections specialist supervisor for San Mateo County and one of the trial witnesses, testified that although there may have been "uncertainty" and "confusion" over the 100-feet buffer between the location of the taco truck and the voting center as well as a vote-by-mail ballot box, which was later moved due to concerns of its proximity, no one had "intentionally" violated election laws.

The judge's written decision did note: "Any illegal electioneering that may have occurred at St. Francis was due to a mistake made by County election officials."

During his press conference on Thursday, Lopez said he had not yet thought about pursuing a countersuit against Lincoln.

"Webster, let's come together and focus on the issues that plague our loved ones," Lopez said during the conference as a peace offering.

Lopez added that his immediate focus lies on vaccinating East Palo Alto, an issue he advocated for during a press conference earlier this month.

Because the verdict was delivered through a proposed statement of decision, both parties have until March 17 to object to the results of the case and request a hearing.

Lincoln's attorney, Mark Rosen, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Comments

Mark Dinan
Registered user
East Palo Alto
on Mar 11, 2021 at 11:37 am
Mark Dinan, East Palo Alto
Registered user
on Mar 11, 2021 at 11:37 am

This is the right decision. Good luck to Antonio Lopez moving forward!


edward
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Mar 11, 2021 at 3:27 pm
edward, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Mar 11, 2021 at 3:27 pm

So, candidates in the future can have a carnival very near the poll station with free rides and food? This is a malignment of the voting process.


The Voice of Palo Alto
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Mar 11, 2021 at 8:49 pm
The Voice of Palo Alto, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Mar 11, 2021 at 8:49 pm

This is just sour grapes on the part of Webster Lincoln. Big deal there were some tacos out there. Guess what? I was there and I actually had a couple of those tacos by the church that day and they were delicious. It didn’t make me vote for your opponent. No one said “thanks for the tacos, you have my vote Lopez.” That’s ridiculous. You lost by 69 votes Webster Lincoln. It had nothing to do with those delicious tacos. It’s time to get over it and move on. You lost fair and square and this ruling proves it.


We Are The People
Registered user
Menlo Park
on Mar 13, 2021 at 10:42 am
We Are The People, Menlo Park
Registered user
on Mar 13, 2021 at 10:42 am

@ The Voice of Palo Alto.
Read again. The Article above states that it was "due to a mistake made by County election officials."
There are Other discrepancies' also. Let's have them play out in Court.


Optimist Pessimist Realist
Registered user
East Palo Alto
on Mar 16, 2021 at 1:02 pm
Optimist Pessimist Realist , East Palo Alto
Registered user
on Mar 16, 2021 at 1:02 pm

It’s good to see a new branch of the corrupt old power structure in East Palo Alto vanquished.
Remember when you interact with city leaders or vote for council members who among them supports the Lincoln/Loudd family and the old guard.


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 17, 2021 at 1:41 pm
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Mar 17, 2021 at 1:41 pm

Okay - the Voice of Palo Alto is showing an address in Crescent Park but going over to vote in EPA for a EPA city job. Has the Voice just blown their cover? I don't think that a Santa Clara County person can vote for a San Mateo, EPA specific job. Those jobs are specific to address of person, city and county.


Danny Walters
Registered user
College Terrace
on Mar 17, 2021 at 1:43 pm
Danny Walters, College Terrace
Registered user
on Mar 17, 2021 at 1:43 pm

° Okay - the Voice of Palo Alto is showing an address in Crescent Park but going over to vote in EPA for a EPA city job.

Not necessarily. Everyone likes a good taco and besides, Crescent Park is very close to EPA.

The sour-grapes loser of the election could have countered with barbequed ribs and sweet potato pie.


Roberto Villareal
Registered user
another community
on Mar 17, 2021 at 4:06 pm
Roberto Villareal, another community
Registered user
on Mar 17, 2021 at 4:06 pm

If the tacos were really good, I'd vote for the candidate as well.

It was a nice gesture to offer a bite to eat whether before or after voting.

There is no law against such a practice.


Optimist Pessimist Realist
Registered user
East Palo Alto
on Mar 17, 2021 at 6:20 pm
Optimist Pessimist Realist , East Palo Alto
Registered user
on Mar 17, 2021 at 6:20 pm

We watched this trial and some of it was off the hook. The losing side had some nutty and prejudiced witnesses who didn’t help their side, the over focus on the handicap parking spot, insistence on what the drop box is for was questionable, so not surprised they lost.


We Are The People
Registered user
Menlo Park
on Mar 17, 2021 at 11:55 pm
We Are The People, Menlo Park
Registered user
on Mar 17, 2021 at 11:55 pm

We also watched the Hearing and to be "Fair and Balance" We would be remiss in allowing Optimist to let slide through with the comments. [Portion removed.] Nutty and prejudice Witnesses were not lost on either side. The Taco Vendor could not remember how much he was paid or when or if he was paid. The Handicap parking is the most puzzling of all the issues. The Handicap Disability Act of 1990 explicitly have regulations regarding blocking Handicap spaces? Why the Police were not called is amazing. A witness was asked why they didn't park in the back of the Church. One witness that sat there most of the day claims She did not see anything? Not even 1700 Tacos being given away? She stated that the Police Dept. did not care about Handicap spaces being blocked? She did remember taking the pictures that were used as evidence.
The question about the (nearness) of the Box lay with the State. This is a point that should be taken up with the State of California. This is what determined Lopez's innocence. The unclarity issued out by the State.
As to the fact that the Election official allowed (some) electioneering, but not the entire open hours. It was testified to that The City Clerk, instead of making the Candidates move, he moved the box. Lopez dodged a bullet. Hopefully this will be his last brush with cutting corners? Danny Walters above, who in my opinion may have made a unconscious remark? Maybe Sour Grapes will return. Because of this new precedent, and give out "Ribs and Sweet Potato Pie?" In that case He would be attracting takers far from the Palo Alto radius.


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 18, 2021 at 5:53 am
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Mar 18, 2021 at 5:53 am

I am laughing - sort of. EPA is in San Mateo County. PA is in Santa Clara County. Driving around to visit taco trucks is interesting - but for the purposes of voting they have a different slate of issues and people / jobs they are voting on. If the Voice is voting in two different counties for two different slates of offices then there is a problem - it is called voter fraud.

Danny must be new in town since he takes positions which do not recognize any boundaries and does no research on the topic before expounding with his opinions.
RWC is also in San Mateo County with different people in charge and different issues.


Terry James
Registered user
another community
on Mar 18, 2021 at 6:51 am
Terry James, another community
Registered user
on Mar 18, 2021 at 6:51 am

What is the big deal?

The free tacos were available to everyone whether a voter/non-voter, county resident or non-county resident.

That is about as egalitarian as it can get.
No bribery, just some tacos for all.

The loser of this election is blaming his loss on a corn tortilla with lettuce, cheese and a seasoned meat filling?

Seriously?

Is EPA challenging Palo Alto for theater of the absurd?


R. Cavendish
Registered user
another community
on Mar 18, 2021 at 8:03 am
R. Cavendish, another community
Registered user
on Mar 18, 2021 at 8:03 am

quote:

"Is EPA challenging Palo Alto for theater of the absurd?"

It appears that way.

Taco-gate is a very serious matter that needs to be thoroughly investigated in order to ensure American democracy.


Tracy Levine
Registered user
Downtown North
on Mar 18, 2021 at 8:43 am
Tracy Levine, Downtown North
Registered user
on Mar 18, 2021 at 8:43 am

This dispute should be settled in 'food court'.


Becky Lawrence
Registered user
Community Center
on Mar 18, 2021 at 9:56 am
Becky Lawrence, Community Center
Registered user
on Mar 18, 2021 at 9:56 am

Tacos have no enjoyment boundaries or voting precincts.

They are to be relished regardless of who one is voting for.

The disgruntled candidate who lost simply should have come up with a clever idea of his own.


Optimist Pessimist Realist
Registered user
East Palo Alto
on Mar 18, 2021 at 2:04 pm
Optimist Pessimist Realist , East Palo Alto
Registered user
on Mar 18, 2021 at 2:04 pm

I hope this article is followed with the update that losing council candidate Webster Lincoln filed his objection to the judge’s decision. If you enjoy the absurd give it a read: Web Link


ariel fleming
Registered user
Downtown North
on Mar 19, 2021 at 11:44 am
ariel fleming, Downtown North
Registered user
on Mar 19, 2021 at 11:44 am

"The disgruntled candidate who lost simply should have come up with a clever idea of his own."

A simple hot dog cart would have sufficed.

Why not put those campaign contributions to good use?

The whiney complaints after losing an election is starting to get old.


R. Cavendish
Registered user
another community
on Mar 19, 2021 at 11:52 am
R. Cavendish, another community
Registered user
on Mar 19, 2021 at 11:52 am

quote:

"A simple hot dog cart would have sufficed."

Or better yet, use the Costco model and offer either a hot dog or a slice of pizza along with a soft drink to wash it down.

Like shopping, a quick bite before or after voting is a welcomed break.


Optimist Pessimist Realist
Registered user
East Palo Alto
on Mar 20, 2021 at 8:13 pm
Optimist Pessimist Realist , East Palo Alto
Registered user
on Mar 20, 2021 at 8:13 pm

East Palo Alto residents should crowd fund a taco truck for the next election. The main rule would be no tacos for Webster Lincoln and his friends and family.


Optimist Pessimist Realist
Registered user
East Palo Alto
on Apr 2, 2021 at 12:22 pm
Optimist Pessimist Realist , East Palo Alto
Registered user
on Apr 2, 2021 at 12:22 pm

What a relief. The final judgement is in and Webster Lincoln is the confirmed loser of his lawsuit. Looking forward to seeing what he does for the community going forward.


Optimist Pessimist Realist
Registered user
East Palo Alto
on May 3, 2021 at 2:42 pm
Optimist Pessimist Realist , East Palo Alto
Registered user
on May 3, 2021 at 2:42 pm

Will this publication do a story on Webster Lincoln’s lost suit against Isaiah Pekary? His mom and grandma joined in that suit. Please give the public the details.


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