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City Submits Response in Voting Rights Lawsuit


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January 22, 2019 -- In a 139-page response as long as some classic novels, the City last week objected to the "proposed statement of decision" submitted by the plaintiffs in a voting rights lawsuit filed by Latino activists.

The City's approximately 62,000-word document objects to the plaintiffs call for a special election July 2 using a district map drawn for the plaintiffs by demographer David Ely ("Plaintiffs in Voting Rights Case Propose July Special Council Election," January 4, 2019).

The document -- much of it single spaced -- is approximately the length of "The Scarlet Letter," "Brave New World" and "The Martian Chronicles."

"Adopting plaintiffs’ PSOD would disregard the facts and law to invalidly usurp the voters’ right to choose how their representatives are elected," the City wrote.

"And it would itself violate the federal and state Constitutions, mandating a change to district-based elections for race-based reasons without any compelling justification."

Submitted to Superior Court Judge Yvette M. Palazuelos on Friday, the document provides detailed answers to a list of 27 questions the City had asked the judge to answer in November ("City Asks Judge to Explain Voting Rights Lawsuit Decision," November 19, 2018).

The response also includes a short history of Santa Monica's electoral system and an exhibit with a list of 156 items admitted as evidence in the trial.

City Attorney Lane Dilg said it was important to address all of the issues raised at trial.

"We do not believe that the plaintiffs addressed many of these issues, and, when they did, we believe their positions do not accurately reflect either the proper legal standards or the evidence introduced at trial," Dilg told the Lookout.

"The City’s objections provide the court with a complete explanation of the flaws and errors," she said. "The arguments are detailed because the case is complex and in order to preserve all arguments should an appeal be filed."

The list of questions submitted -- and answered -- by the City includes how the judge interpreted election results and voting patterns and identified Latino-preferred candidates.

"Plaintiffs proceed from the erroneous assumptions that the only elections that matter are those in which Latino (or Latino-surnamed) candidates ran, and that the only candidates who could possibly be Latino-preferred must themselves be Latino," the City wrote in its response.

"The City has maintained from the start of this case that these assumptions, particularly the assumption that voters will necessarily prefer candidates of their own race or ethnicity, are unreasonable and unconstitutional."

The plaintiffs' lead attorney, Kevin Shenkman, said he doesn't intend to read the document, which reiterates the points made by the City during trial.

But he believes the City's response includes every issue raised at trial so its outside law firm, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, can choose what to focus on in an appeal.

"What they're trying to do is preserve these arguments for appeal," Shenkman said. "You can't argue something in the court of appeals you didn't argue in (the lower) court."

Shenkman noted that an Appeals Court brief cannot exceed 14,000 words, including footnotes.

"They're covering for their big firm's inefficiencies, and the City of Santa Monica is paying for it," he said.

Now that the City has filed its response, Judge Palazuelos will make any necessary changes to the plaintiffs' "proposed settlement of decision" before entering a final judgment.

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