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California Supreme Court Denies Santa Monica Request to Toss Voting Rights Lawsuit
By Niki Cervantes
October 23, 2017 -- The California Supreme Court last week denied an appeal by the City of Santa Monica to review the Voting Rights lawsuit filed against it, upholding a lower court ruling that allows the litigation to proceed to trial.
The October 18 ruling from the 2nd District Court of Appeal of the state Supreme Court was praised by Kevin Shenkman, the attorney representing the plaintiffs -- the Pico Neighborhood Association and Latina Activist Maria Loya ("Santa Monica Facing Lawsuit Over At-Large Council Elections," April 13, 2016).
“The California Supreme Court's unanimous decision last week is further affirmation that the city council members' misguided and expensive fight against the voting rights of their own constituents is, at its core, based on a distorted view of the law,” Shenkman said.
The City was not immediately available for comment.
In June, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Yvette M. Palazuelos ordered the voting rights lawsuit against the City to proceed, rejecting the City’s effort to have it thrown out ("Judge Orders Voting Rights Lawsuit Against City of Santa Monica to Move Forward," June 14, 2017).
The City, which is using the outside counsel of Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher, argues the litigants failed to provide evidence of racially polarized voting in which white voters -- the overwhelming majority -- vote as a bloc to defeat Hispanic-preferred candidates.
Originally headed for trial at the end of the month, the court date is now set for July 30.
In a related matter, Shenkman said he might now seek sanctions against Council Member Pam O’Connor, who walked out of her deposition August 11 after just a few minutes ("Santa Monica City Councilmember Ordered Back to Deposition in Voting Rights Lawsuit," October 19, 2017).
“I was particularly interested in Ms. O'Connor's statement, texted to the Lookout last week, that ‘the City’ instructed her to leave the deposition,” he said.
“That is inconsistent with what the City's attorneys have told the discovery referee, and we may renew our request for sanctions based on Ms. O'Connor's admission that her actions were premeditated,” Shenkman said.
He said the plaintiffs would likely ask for monetary sanctions, which courts are more likely to grant.
“It's unfortunate that any monetary sanctions would probably come out of the city's coffers, but it wouldn't be the first time the city has done something illegal that ends up costing it a significant amount of money.”
Asked to comment on Shenkman's plans to seek sanctions, O'Connor told the Lookout Monday, "I followed the instructions of the City's attorneys. I'm not an attorney."
Shenkman has filed dozens of California Voting Rights lawsuits against cities ("City of Santa Monica the “One Hold Out” in Voting Rights Litigation, Lawyer says," May 18, 2017).
He argues the use of “at-large” voting –- in which a city is a single district -– shuts out Hispanic candidates, since they can’t generally afford the expensive campaign outreach that a citywide at-large election requires.
His suits seek to force district voting. In that system, cities voters are apportioned by neighborhood, and candidates run to represent the neighborhoods in which they reside.
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