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Superior Court Judge Ronald Quidachay answered a few key questions Friday about how two challenges to San Francisco’s gay and lesbian marriages will proceed, but he largely left the cases in limbo. Taking a page from Judge James Warren’s book, Quidachay denied plaintiffs’ request for a temporary restraining order to stop the stream of same-sex marriage licenses that have been issued out of City Hall since Feb. 12. Quidachay said the plaintiffs had not shown how the marriages would cause irreparable harm. He did grant the plaintiffs’ request for an order to show cause, but did not set a date for that hearing. Warren made a similar ruling earlier last week in a similar challenge, denying an immediate stay but scheduling a show-cause hearing for March 29. Quidachay also ordered that the two cases be consolidated. But he declined to decide which of the two judges should hear them. Mathew Staver, a lawyer for the plaintiffs in the case before Quidachay, Thomasson v. Newsom, 428794, said Friday that he would file a peremptory challenge to disqualify Warren this morning. He thinks his client would be “substantially prejudiced” before Warren, though declined to elaborate why at a press conference after Friday’s hearing. Staver asked Quidachay to set a show-cause hearing within 10 days. But like Warren, Quidachay did not appear to be in a hurry to hold the hearing. He told lawyers for both sides that if they couldn’t agree on the March 29 date set by Warren, they should look to statute for guidelines to set a date, or come back to argue for holding it sooner.
Michael Marcavage of Repent America urges repentance outside San Francisco City Hall. Image: Jason Doiy / The Recorder

In ruling that the plaintiffs had not shown irreparable harm, Quidachay decided an issue that had been hotly contested in the briefs. The challengers have argued that issuing the marriage certificates violates their rights as taxpayers and as voters who supported Proposition 22, which recognized marriages only as between a man and a woman. In the case before Warren, plaintiffs argued that same-sex couples would use their marriage licenses to “initiate litigation throughout the state and country.” The city had argued that the litigation threat is “sheer speculation.” While Quidachay is hearing Thomasson, Warren is hearing Proposition 22 Legal Defense and Education Fund v. San Francisco, 503943. On Friday, the city and all the plaintiffs appeared to agree that the cases should be consolidated. But they disagreed on whether the cases should be combined for all matters or just for trial, and on which judge should hear them. “In the end, the issues are the same and the law is the same,” Quidachay said, adding that consolidation would promote efficiency and consistency. “The court’s going to grant the motion for consolidation for all purposes, and leave blank the department to which it’s to go,” the judge said. The peremptory challenge against Warren may make the question moot, Quidachay noted. Chief Deputy City Attorney Therese Stewart accused Staver of “forum shopping” and questioned whether his clients would be entitled to a peremptory challenge, in part since Warren made a ruling in one of the cases already. In declining to set the show-cause hearing sooner, Quidachay said he wants lawyers on both sides to take time to better prepare their briefs. “The problem the court has been seeing in the past week is we’ve been getting a lot of piecemeal,” Quidachay said. In hearings last week, when citing some cases on the fly rather than in briefs, lawyers blamed the quick succession of filings. And on Friday, the briefs seemed to carry the most weight with Quidachay. Before addressing each of the major questions before him, the judge would state his leaning, a common practice in his courtroom. And despite nearly 90 minutes of back-and-forth with some of the small army of attorneys present, Quidachay seldom veered from his first inclinations. He said up front, for example, that he was leaning toward denying the temporary restraining order. After Stewart tried to change the judge’s mind on one point, Quidachay said, “The court’s leaning has not changed.” Then, inviting opposing counsel to speak, Quidachay added a bit of advice: “I usually tell the one side if you’re winning, be quiet.” As the media representatives and lawyers packing the courtroom laughed, Staver took the judge’s cue and replied, “Your honor, I have nothing to add.” On another point, when the judge seemed inclined to side with the city after its opponents’ arguments, Quidachay asked Stewart whether she had anything to add. She replied, “Your honor, it depends on whether you want to tell me to be quiet.” Susan Beck, a senior writer with American Lawyer magazine, a Recorder affiliate, contributed to this story.

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