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San Diego County Clerk confronts his critics today at news conference

SAN DIEGO -- San Diego County Clerk Ernest Dronenburg paid a surprise visit this morning to a group of community activists who had called a news conference to demand accountability for the County Clerk who filed a petition with the California Supreme Court to halt same-gender marriages.

Dronenburg, who addressed the media for about 10 minutes outside the San Diego County Administration Building downtown, said that he came to the news conference to respond to an allegation made in a news release issued by the Log Cabin Republicans of San Diego County. The group accused the County Clerk of using taxpayer money for the petition he filed with the California Supreme Court challenging the State of California’s order to resume same-gender marriages.

While Dronenburg may contend that no tax dollars were used in filing his petition, he did not acknowledge that it will take considerable state tax dollars to respond to the petition to the state's highest court.

The visibly nervous Dronenburg, who quietly approached the media at the conclusion of the planned remarks, apologized for "interrupting" the news conference, saying that "this is their day."

One reporter pointed out that Dronenburg and his attorney, well-known Proposition 8 supporter Charles LiMandri, had scheduled and then cancelled a press conference of their own that was supposed to happen at 7:30 am today.

"I told [LiMandri] to cancel his news conference today," Dronenburg said, repeating that "this is their day."

Before Dronenburg spoke, the media heard from LCRSD president Susan Jester; Dr. Lori Hensic, director of education for the American Military Partners Association (AMPA); military partner and AMPA member Lisa Mata, local LGBT activist Sean Sala, and Missiongathering Church pastor Richard McCullen.

Jester, whose organization called the news conference, said that she was speaking as a conservative Republican in asking Dronenburg to stop using his political office to interfere with the law.

"What was the purpose of the filing? The Clerk's job is to carry out the law, not implement it," Jester said. "If Dronenburg is indeed just trying to 'clarify' the law, why did he hire LiMandri? It's like sending the fox into the hen house to count the chickens and eggs!"

Jester said that Dronenburg's choice of LiMandri as attorney in his filing gives the appearance of him interjecting his religious beliefs. Jester, who called LiMandri "the father of Prop 8," noted LiMandri's deep anti-gay beliefs and activism.

"As a conservative, I'm offended," Jester said. "Using a public office to promote a religious agenda is wrong and is a waste of tax dollars," Jester said, before hearing Dronenburg state that he is not using county funds to pay for the filing. LiMandri is working pro bono for Dronenburg.

Hensic said that Dronenburgs actions are a "direct attack on our military families." She introduced Mata, who is engaged to a military service member and plans to get married in San Diego County.

"Lisa Mata's natural course of action - to marry the woman she loves - is now disrupted," Hensic said.

Pastor McCullen spoke briefly and said that it is time for Dronenburg to do his job.

"[The LGBT community] won. Prop 8 is over. The anti-gay Religious Right community has lost. Let's work together and move on," McCullen said.

Sala closed, speaking to LiMandri. Dronenburg quietly approached the group from the back during Sala's closing remarks.

"We live in a constitutional republic. We protect the rights of minorities. Your arguments are tired and old," Sala said. "Charles LiMandri, your name will go down in history as equivalent with Jim Crow!"

Dronenburg, who did not attend most of the news conference, was unable to respond to most of the statements made by the group, but reiterated throughout his remarks that he wanted to make it clear that he was not using county funds to pursue a stay on same-gender marriages in the state.

"I believe it's cruel to set up [same-gender couples] for marriage and then take it away," Dronenburg said. "That's why I'm simply seeking clarification to the court's rulings so we don't have to do this again."

Much of the gathered press members, which consisted of about 10 media outlets, seemed skeptical of Dronenburg, asking pointed questions about his personal religious beliefs.

"My belief is to follow the law," Dronenburg said to a reporter who asked if his religious beliefs played a part in his decision to take such action.

Dronenburg said he is not taking the issue lightly and simply wants a greater understanding of the ruling. He said he can not do his job without having answers to three questions, which he stated:

1. Clarification of Section 3.5 of the California Constitution which deals with who has the authority to declare a statute unconstitutional.

2. Who does this case cover? What is the jurisdiction?

3. How am I involved in the case?

"I simply want answers to these questions so I can continue to my job," Dronenburg said. "Right now, we are putting in a special effort to make sure things go smoothly and we're doing it better than any other county."

When asked if he hopes his filing will eventually lead to ending same-gender marriage in California, Dronenburg replied: "I just want clarification."

Dronenburg says he hopes to hear back about his petition within two weeks.