As SLO County Superior Court Judge Craig Van Rooyen dismissed the felony voter fraud case against California Valley Community Services District (CSD) President Lisa Marrone, he added a caveat.
“I don’t fault the District Attorney’s Office for investigating this matter,” he told the District 7 courtroom. “It was a close call.”
The issues on the table were whether Marrone had knowingly lied on voter registration forms in 2015 and what constitutes a place of residence for the purposes of both voter registration and holding public office. Both are more complicated than they sound.
Deputy District Attorney Lee Cunningham argued in court briefs and at a preliminary hearing that Marrone doesn’t live at her property on Belmont Trail in the California Valley, and therefore it shouldn’t be considered her place of domicile for voter registration purposes. Hence, she shouldn’t have run as a candidate to serve on the CSD board.
Marrone’s attorney, Barry Kinman, argued that his client has considered herself a resident and active member of the California Valley for the past 30 years. He added that although she spends a significant portion of her time—and nights—in Paso Robles to take care of her mobile oil-changing business, she consistently returns to the California Valley and believes it to be home.
In 2012, Marrone sold her residence in the California Valley, but still owned other properties in the area—both rentals and a parcel on Belmont Trail where she was building a home (the build-out was recently completed). She served as the California Valley’s Cal Fire station caption in the 1980s and early ’90s and has participated as a community member and off and on as a board member ever since.
“People can see that she has longstanding ties in the California Valley,” Rooyen said during the hearing. He said there was insufficient evidence to prove that Marrone lied about her place of residence or to prove that her domicile is elsewhere.
“I’m ecstatic,” Marrone told New Times after the decision.
Cunningham wasn’t quite as thrilled with the outcome.
“Although we disagree with the judge’s ruling, law is rarely black and white,” he said.
The DA’s Office is pursuing a similar case against California Valley CSD member Misty May Lambert, and that’s scheduled for a preliminary hearing on Nov. 8.
“These cases are factually based, and Ms. Lambert’s case relies on a different set of facts,” Cunningham said. “It will be evaluated on its own merits.”