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Judge Tosses City of Santa Monica's Motion to Dismiss Voting Rights Lawsuit
By Jorge Casuso
June 18, 2018 -- A motion to dismiss a voting rights lawsuit against the City of Santa Monica was denied in Superior Court Tuesday after the high-powered law firm hired to defend the City failed to meet a filing deadline.
Superior Court Judge Yvette M. Palazuelos ruled that the City's attorney -- Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP -- missed a March 6 deadline by three days to serve its motion for a summary judgment to the plaintiffs' attorneys.
"The minimum notice requirements are mandatory and cannot be shortened by the Court," Palazuelos wrote in her ruling.
Attorneys for the City argued they had e-mailed the motion to plaintiffs' attorney Kevin Shenkman by the deadline.
But Palazuelos rejected the argument.
"The California Civil Code Procedure does not permit service via e-mail and such service is not proper unless the parties stipulates to or the court orders such service," the judge wrote.
"There does not appear to be any stipulation or order on the record permitting email service of the motion."
The dismissal of the City's motion for summary judgement paves the way for the trial to begin July 30.
Last year, the City paid Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher fees totaling nearly $5 million, although the price tag included other legal matters ("City of Santa Monica Enters Second Year of Fight Against Voting Rights Lawsuit," April 19, 2018).
Shenkman, who would be paid attorney's fees by the City if the lawsuit prevails, said he estimates the City has so far spent more than $4 million fighting the suit.
Santa Monica is the only City in California still fighting litigation seeking to replace the at-large voting method used by most small to mid-sized municipalities with district systems ("City of Santa Monica the “One Hold Out” in Voting Rights Litigation, Lawyer says," May 18, 2017).
Most of the cities threatened with lawsuits under the Voting Rights Act have folded before engaging in a prolonged legal battle.
The exceptions have been Santa Monica and the City of Palmdale, both of which were sued by Shenkman.
In the Palmdale case, a court decided in August 2012 that the City had violated the Voting Rights Act and postponed the elections scheduled for November.
Special elections under the newly redrawn districts were held in January 2013.
Shenkman, who has sent letters to more than two dozen cities warning of violations of the Voting Rights Act, believes the trial in the Santa Monica case is following the same timeline as the one in Palmdale.
"There is a distinct possibility the judge could rule the City cannot hold another at large election," said Shenkman, who represents activist Maria Loya and the Pico Neighborhood Association (PNA).
The plaintiffs claim Santa Monica's at-large elections are meant to prevent candidates from non-Anglo sections of the city from winning representation on the City Council.
The City counters that Latino candidates have been successful in elections for all of the City’s governing bodies and that Latino voters live throughout the city, making it impossible to create a Latino majority district.
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