A group of Oregonians incensed by the decision of a circuit court judge to strike down a state-wide voter-approved measure protecting property rights have launched a recall campaign to oust her from office.
On Oct. 14, Judge Mary M. James of Marion County ruled Measure 37, approved overwhelmingly by voters last year, is unconstitutional. Her action has angered property-rights advocates and others across the state.
While the ruling voids the measure in Marion County and three other counties that were part of the legal action, it is unclear whether or not it applies in the remainder of the state.
Judge Mary James
Measure 37 says property owners whose land has lost value because of land-use regulations adopted after they bought it must either be paid for the loss of value or be granted a waiver of the restriction. Oregon counties have been processing requests from more than 2,000 property owners, with governments normally opting to waive restrictions rather than pay compensation.
In her ruling, James said the measure is unfair and violates the “equal privileges and immunities” provisions of the state constitution because it gives benefits to people who bought their land before regulations were applied but not to those who purchase property later.
Organizers of the petition drive to recall James have set up a website to explain the process. According to the site, those hoping to oust the judge have 90 days to collect just over 14,000 signatures of Marion County registered voters. If the requisite number of signatures is verified, a recall election will be scheduled.
A petition-drive kick-off rally is planned for Saturday at 9 a.m. in Keizer, Ore., near the state capital of Salem.
“By overruling Measure 37, Judge Mary James has disregarded the express will of the people of Oregon and … undercut the fundamental God-given right of Oregonians to truly own their property,” stated Tom Steffen, a businessman from Silverton, Ore., who filed the petition for recall.
Organizers of the effort believe recalling James will send a clear message to other judges that overturn voter-approved initiatives.
“If the people of Oregon do not avail themselves of their power to remove her from office by means of the recall tool, then we in turn are forfeiting our own rights and prove ourselves unworthy of freedom,” states the recall website. “Not only that, but we would condemn our posterity to oppression. It is our duty to act. When Mary James is removed from her judgeship, the rest of Oregon’s judiciary will straighten up.”
While James’ re-election ballot information from last year correctly states the office of circuit court judge is nonpartisan, the page includes an endorsement from Democratic Gov. Ted Kulongoski.