Judge: Orange County must use tobacco money for health care, not jails
SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) -- A Superior Court commissioner reaffirmed her preliminary ruling mandating Orange County to spend most of its tobacco settlement funds on health care, not to build jails or to ease bankruptcy debt.
Orange County's Board of Supervisors wanted Measure H, which passed overwhelmingly in November, to be declared unconstitutional.
Measure H puts at least 80 percent of the county's $950 million tobacco settlement into health care programs for the poor. Supervisors wanted to use 60 percent of the money in various public health programs and dedicate the remainder to reducing the county's 1994 bankruptcy debt and build jails.
The money can be spent beginning July 1. The county will receive $28 million in tobacco settlement money this fiscal year and as much as $35 million in annual installments over the next quarter-century.
Superior Court Commissioner Jane D. Myers on Thursday reaffirmed her Feb. 14 preliminary ruling forcing the county to use the money for health care.
Myers ruled Measure H does not interfere with the board's management or administration of county government, as the supervisors had argued.
Since implementation of the measure doesn't begin for several months, ``the Board of Supervisors sufficient time to plan for its inclusion in future budgets.''
Supervisor Chuck Smith, who pushed for the legal challenge, said supervisors will discuss the ruling at a closed session on Tuesday.
Board Chairwoman Cynthia P. Coad was out of the country Thursday. Vice Chairman Jim Silva, who was in Sacramento, said he had no comment because he had neither seen the ruling nor spoken to the county's attorney.
Supervisors Todd Spitzer and Tom Wilson, who supported Measure H, said they plan to argue against filing an appeal.
``I think the people have spoken and so have the courts,'' Wilson said.
Ben de Mayo, assistant county counsel, said there was merit in the challenge and it was up to the board to decide on whether to appeal.
Myers' ruling is the second legal setback for the county on the tobacco issue. In August, supervisors unsuccessfully tried to keep the initiative off the ballot.