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Full panel may review California recall ballot

Appeals court delays postponement order and asks new briefs

WASHINGTON -- The fate of the election to recall California's governor remained uncertain yesterday, as lawyers prepared for another round of legal maneuvering in a federal appeals court in San Francisco.

The full US Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit temporarily blocked a three-judge panel's decision Monday ordering a postponement of the Oct. 7 recall election and invited the lawyers in the case to file written arguments today on whether the full court should get involved.

Those actions appeared to be at least a temporary interruption in the path of the dispute toward the US Supreme Court and added another layer of legal doubt to the effort to recall Governor Gray Davis, a Democrat.

Davis's popular support has eroded deeply, because of public dissatisfaction with his handling of the state's current budget crisis and because of last summer's rolling electric blackouts.

The three-judge panel said that holding the recall vote on Oct. 7 would be unconstitutional, because six of the state's most populous counties planned to use an outdated punch-card system. That method has been banned by state officials, except for the planned Oct. 7 vote.

If the full membership of the appeals court agrees to review the recall dispute, that would probably delay setting a final date for the recall election.

On Monday, the three-judge panel indicated a strong preference for holding the recall election as part of the balloting March 4 in California's presidential primary, but it did not formally order that date.

Richard L. Hasen, an election law specialist who teaches at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said that "March is the most likely," if the Oct. 7 schedule is cast aside.

But Hasen added that it was conceivable that state officials could get ready for a recall election before next March.

Secretary of State Kevin Shelley released a statement yesterday saying that he would join in the new filings to the full appeals court.

While Shelley did not say whether he would favor that court's intervention, he said he wants the case "heard swiftly and considered thoroughly, so the court can resolve these legal issues with the finality that the voters expect and deserve."

Shelley and the sponsors of the recall effort had not asked the full appeals court to take on the case. Under court rules, however, any judge of the appeals court can call for a vote on that issue. That is what happened yesterday, but the court did not disclose which of its members had raised the question.

Eleven judges would take part in the full court's review.

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