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SACRAMENTO � A Sacramento judge on Tuesday refused to fast-track hearings in a suit challenging Democrat Jerry Brown’s qualifications to be attorney general, a ruling that likely eliminates the plaintiffs’ best chance of ensuring a Republican wins the Nov. 7 election. Superior Court Judge Shelleyanne Chang’s decision means the plaintiffs, five county GOP leaders, face the difficult task of persuading a judge to bar Brown from office if he wins the election. The Republicans’ attorney, Charles Bell, said his clients will challenge the election results if Brown wins. “It’s a long shot,” said Richard Hasen, a Loyola Law School professor and noted election law blogger. The plaintiffs argue that Brown is ineligible (.pdf) for California’s top-cop post because he was an inactive member of the State Bar for two of the past five years. State law says attorney general candidates must be admitted to practice before the California Supreme Court for at least five years “immediately preceding” the election. The lawsuit contends that since Brown wasn’t an “active” Bar member between 1997 and 2003, he wasn’t “admitted” to practice as required for the last five years. Brown’s backers and several legal experts said that the Oakland mayor’s inactive membership didn’t change his original admittance to practice in 1965. The plaintiffs asked the court to block the counting of any votes cast for Brown in five counties � including large and heavily Democratic Los Angeles and Santa Clara � which would effectively secure a win for Republican Chuck Poochigian. Brown is leading Poochigian by double digits in the most recent published polls. Now, even if the plaintiffs were to succeed in blocking a victorious Brown from being sworn in, the attorney general’s office would be declared vacant, according to the state Constitution. The Democrat-dominated Legislature would have to approve a replacement nominated by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and lawmakers probably would be in no mood to welcome Poochigian or any other GOP pick. Hasen predicted before Tuesday’s ruling that a court would likely frown upon a challenge filed so close to the election. “In a way the suit that was brought was either too early or too late,” he said. Brown consultant Ace Smith praised the judge’s ruling and called the lawsuit “a desperate political stunt.”

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