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City Plans to Appeal Decision in Voting Rights Case
By Jorge Casuso
November 13, 2018 -- () The City of Santa Monica plans to appeal a Superior Court decision that it violated the California Voting Rights Act by discriminating against minority voters, City officials said Tuesday afternoon.
The decision to appeal came about one hour after the parties in the lawsuit received a tentative ruling by Superior Court Judge Yvette M. Palazuelos against the City and set a hearing to propose an appropriate remedy for December 7 ("Plaintiffs Win Voting Rights Suit Against the City of Santa Monica," November 13, 2018).
“We are disappointed that (the ruling) contains no reasoning in support of the court’s decision, which we believe is based on an unjustified adoption of the plaintiffs’ misguided and unsupported view of the law," said Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP.
"In accordance with the court’s order, we will file briefing on the issue of remedies,” Boutrous said. “Once the court’s ruling is final, we plan to appeal, which will allow the California Court of Appeal to address the significant legal issues of first impression posed by this case.”
Kevin Shenkman, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs -- Maria Loya and the Pico Neighborhood Association (PNA) -- has argued the City is throwing away taxpayer dollars by continuing to fight what is a losing cause.
"It's going to cost them a few million dollars more for their own attorneys and they'll end up paying us more," Shenkman told the lookout Tuesday.
In 2017, total fees to the Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher were nearly $5 million, according to the City's Finance Department ("City of Santa Monica Enters Second Year of Fight Against Voting Rights Lawsuit," April 18, 2018).
Shenkman estimates the total fees paid to the defense firm could reach $10 million before the appeal.
"First, as the closing briefs make clear, the trial in this case demonstrated that Santa Monica’s at-large elections are fair, inclusive, and comply fully with California and federal law," City officials wrote in a statement.
"The reality is that Latinos have consistently been able to elect candidates of their choice to the City Council and other positions in Santa Monica."
The City also said replacing the current at-large election system with districts "will not meaningfully enhance Latino voting power or Latino political representation."
"It is impossible to draw a district in which Latino voters would form a majority," City officials said. "At the same time, concentrating Latino voters within a single district would leave Latino voters outside that district (the majority of Latino voters in Santa Monica) submerged in overwhelmingly white districts."
City officials also will argue that districts have been rejected by voters twice and would not work in a City the size of Santa Monica.
"Santa Monica voters have chosen the current at-large system for reasons that make sense," officials said. "Santa Monica voters have twice rejected proposals to move to district-based elections, in 1975 and 2002.
"A district system may work well in larger cities like Los Angeles, but dividing up Santa Monica’s 8.3-square-mile community would pit neighborhood against neighborhood, encouraging legislative deal making to serve the interests of individual districts rather than the city as a whole."
In her tentative decision, Palazuelos also ruled in favor of the plaintiffs' claim that in 1946 and 1992 the City deliberately discriminated against minorities by refusing to implement district elections.
Plaintiffs attorney R. Rex Parris said the City is fighting a losing battle because it has not presented evidence that Santa Monica's vote has not been polarized.
"I don't see how they can expect to prevail," Parris said.
The plaintiffs are not required to draw a majority Latino district but "one that influences the outcome of elections," he said.
The City, Parris added, did not present a remedy during the trail in the event it lost.
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