Judge Issues Tentative CVRA Ruling On COC Lawsuit; Trial To Start In June
A judge issued a tentative ruling Wednesday in the only unsettled California Voting Rights Act lawsuit in the Santa Clarita Valley.
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Judge Rolf Treu denied the Santa Clarita Community College District’s request for a summary judgment dismissing the lawsuit alleging a violation of the CVRA. A trial date is tentatively scheduled for June 2. The SCCCD governing board oversees the College of the Canyons's two SCV campuses, and its district boundary encompasses the Santa Clarita Valley and a very small portion of the San Fernando Valley.
The ruling left the attorney for Jim Soliz and Rosemarie Sanchez-Fraser, who were also plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the city of Santa Clarita alleging similar violations, upbeat about his case’s potential.
Related article: Santa Clarita Votes To Settle California Voting Rights Act Lawsuit
“The court expressed its view of the law and it mirrors what we’ve said,” said Kevin Shenkman of Shenkman & Hughes. “And with that view, (the Santa Clarita Community College District) can’t win.”
Shenkman garnered settlements in lawsuits against the Sulphur Springs School District and the city of Santa Clarita. Those changes are expected to take place in the 2015 and 2016 elections, respectively.
The city agreed to move its election to November of even-numbered years and allow for cumulative voting, which means, for example, in a City Council race with three seats, a voter would receive three votes he or she could cast in any combination for the candidates.
The Sulphur Springs School District agreed to go to districting, which would divide the district’s coverage area into boundaries, and an elected official would represent a specific area. District officials will not be moving their election year.
Both entities acknowledged the enormous cost of fighting such a claim, as well as the fact that no such claim has ever been successfully defended, as part of the reason for settling.
In the filing of a similar lawsuit against the city of Palmdale, the legal fees are expected to reach approximately $5 million, according to case documents. That case is still being litigated on appeal, as the initial ruling went against Palmdale.
Shenkman also disagreed with a recent assessment that the remedy approved by Santa Clarita officials -- lining up the City Council race with the other November ballots, would cause confusion and affect turnout.
Shenkman pointed out Long Beach's municipal elections, which follows procedure similar to those adopted by Santa Clarita, statistically affect the voter turnout by 2-3 percent, while the turnout for November increases by approximately 30-40 percent.
Santa Clarita Community College officials repeatedly expressed a desire to fight the lawsuit.
Related article: Report Cites 'Some Vulnerability' To Voting Rights Act Lawsuit
In Wednesday’s tentative ruling, Treu declares the fact that no Latino candidate has run for the SCCCD board in the last 21 years is irrelevant to the case. He also discounts the need for the plaintiffs to establish a majority Hispanic district in the Santa Clarita Valley, which is a SCCCD contention.
Treu also found fault with experts on both sides, noting the SCCCD’s expert, Jonathan Katz, a Caltech professor, looked at too limited of a sample in denying the existence of racially polarized voting; the data considered by the plaintiff’s expert, Morgan Kousser, who’s also a Caltech professor, did not have a proper foundation establishing its relevance.
Kousser was also the expert used in the case against the city and the school district, and Shenkman said that would be addressed at trial. A schedule conflict could push back the case, but a tentative date was set in June.
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