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A trailblazing Oakland law allowing police to confiscate vehicles from people arrested on drug and prostitution charges may be headed for the state Supreme Court. The law, enacted in 1999, has been copied in at least 20 cites throughout the state that use it as a deterrent to cut down on street crime traffic. Last week, the Third District Court of Appeal ruled that the city of Stockton’s version of the ordinance violated due process rights. Judge M. Kathleen Butz wrote for the unanimous panel that the city’s ordinance is too vague in providing for “reasonably prompt” hearings for vehicle seizures and is pre-empted by a state law that gives local police the right to take vehicles used in a drug or prostitution offense. The outcome is contrary to a First District decision that upheld the Oakland ordinance five years ago. The Stockton City Council will decide during a closed-session meeting next month whether to file an appeal in the case of O’Connell v. City of Stockton, 05 C.D.O.S. 3410, Stockton City Attorney Ren Nosky said. “We have two conflicting appellate court decisions,” Nosky said. “We think our chances are better than OK that the court would entertain it.” Healdsburg attorney Mark Clausen, who represented plaintiff Kendra O’Connell in the Stockton case, expects the city to push the issue. “This is just too important to the cities,” Clausen said. “It started out by a little PR stunt by the city of Oakland . . . but everyone jumped on board.” In 2000, the First District upheld the Oakland law in Horton v. City of Oakland, 82 Cal.App.4th 580. The pre-emption analysis didn’t figure heavily into the opinion, and the state justices declined to review the ruling. If the high court takes the Stockton case, Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown — who calls the vehicle seizure ordinance an important tool in the city’s fight against crime — all but vowed to argue the case himself. “I intend to fight this,” said the mayor, who is running for state attorney general. “Definitely, if this goes to the Supreme Court, I’m going to participate. . . . The people feel very strongly about it.” Brown said he will review the Stockton case “in order to make sure we afford due process consistent with constitutional principals,” but felt certain the city was already doing so. “I’m confident that the California Supreme Court, given the chance, will reverse the pre-emptive issue,” he said. “If they don’t, and we have to, we’ll go to the Legislature.” Oakland City Attorney John Russo is unlikely to join the fray, however. He was an Oakland city councilman when the ordinance was created, and he voted against it at that time because he had concerns about its constitutional merits. He doesn’t support the current ordinance, although his office will defend it. “We diligently enforce all of the City Council’s laws,” said Erica Harrold, the city attorney’s office spokeswoman. “Even if we got individual attorneys who don’t personally agree, they’re still ethically bound to diligently enforce them.” Meanwhile, a new challenge to Oakland’s ordinance is in front of the First District. The case, Sohigian v. City of Oakland, A103031, has “the same issues as the Stockton case,” said Clausen, who is representing plaintiff Aram Sohigian. But despite the Third District’s decision, Clausen is not overly optimistic about the Sohigian case. “The First District court is notoriously independent,” he said.

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