Southern California Boss Indicted for Election Law Violations

Raymond Busch, an Orange County, Cal., teachers union boss, was charged Dec. 12 with nine criminal counts of participating in the illegal gathering of petition signatures to recall school board trustees. The case is the newest chapter in the continuing saga of the Orange Unified Sch. Dist., for which control of the board has been an ongoing battle, beginning with the June 2001 recall of three board members and culminating with a Nov. election, which brought in a new slate of trustees.

According to the charges brought by the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, Busch attested that he had gathered signatures for the recall, though others had actually done the signature-gathering, a possible violation of state election laws.  Busch, a teacher and member of the board of directors of the Orange Unified Educ. Ass’n, could be sentenced to up to nine years in jail if convicted on all counts. He is not under arrest, prosecutors said, because he is not a flight risk. He is scheduled to be arraigned Jan. 7.

OUEA backed the recall, but its president, Paul Pruss, claimed there was no concerted attempt by his members to mislead voters. Unionists gathered almost 20,000 signatures in the recall effort. “These were volunteers,” Pruss said. “These were not professional signature-gatherers. If there were mistakes made, they were not intentional–or at least I’d hope they weren’t.”

By law, signatures for recall petitions must be gathered by registered voters who live in the district. The law is meant to prevent outsiders from recalling local officeholders. Busch is a registered voter and an Orange resident,but he was not the one who gathered signatures on nine petitions late last year that bear his name as the petition circulator, prosecutors said. Petition circulators must sign an affidavit under each set of signatures attesting that they gathered the signatures before filing them with the registrar of voters. The nine petitions with Busch’s name, each with ten to twenty signatures, were distributed among adult vocational students in the district, said senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Pete Pierce, who is prosecuting the case. He said his office began investigating in May after citizen complaints.

Martin Jacobson, one of the recalled trustees who unsuccessfully sought to regain his seat in November, said the charges against Busch support his allegations that recall supporters were using underhanded tactics. “It was evident the other side was doing everything they could possibly do to win,” he said. “It is the idea that the end justifies the means.” Jacobson and the other two recalled trustees, Linda Davis and Maureen Aschoff, said they had no immediate plans to contest the recall election results, but Davis said the district is now governed by an “illegal board.” “I’d like to talk to an attorney about it,” Davis said. The 30,000-student district has been plagued for a decade by unionist unrest over salaries and benefits. [L.A. Times 12/13/01]