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Appeals Court Orders City to Cut Brief in Voting Rights Case

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By Jorge Casuso

September 30, 2019 -- The City of Santa Monica's draft of its brief in the voting rights lawsuit is far too long and must be substantially cut, although it can exceed the customary length, the California Court of Appeals ruled last week.

The City's original draft of more than 24,000 words must be edited down to 17,000 words, 4,000 less than the 21,000 words the City had requested, the court ruled Thursday.

The length approved by the court is still 3,000 words more than the customary length of 14,000 words for a brief, which lays out the legal arguments submitted in a case.

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The written documents are important in an appeal, which allows only a 30-minute oral argument by each side. In comparison, the Superior Court trial in the case against Santa Monica lasted six weeks and included testimony from 16 witnesses.

In its petition submitted September 9, the City said the "substantial and novel questions of law" it plans to raise require a lengthier brief.

"Given the number, complexity, novelty, and importance of the issues presented by this appeal," the City wrote, "this Court would be well served by the thorough factual and legal analysis that the requested word-limit extension would permit."

In a September 23 response to the City's request, the lead attorney for the Latino plaintiffs noted that the City had requested and been granted an expedited trial.

"Now, Appellant seeks to multiply the work required of both Respondents and this Court, all within a truncated schedule, by filing an opening brief 50% larger than what is permitted by this Court’s rules," wrote attorney Kevin Shenkman.

"Appellant should not be permitted to have it both ways."

Thursday's ruling comes nearly five months after the Appeals Court granted the City's request to expedite the case to assure a ruling is made by July 10 ("Appeals Court Grants City's Request to Expedite Voting Rights Case," May 7, 2019).

The expedited ruling would give the City time to prepare for the scheduled November 2020 Council election, the City said.

The City is appealing Superior Court Judge Yvette M. Palazuelos ruling that found Santa Monica's at large election system deliberately discriminates against Latino voters ("Judge Orders Special District Elections for Council in Final Ruling," February 15, 2019).

In her ruling, Palazuelos ordered a special district-based election this July for all seven council seats using a map submitted by the plaintiffs and prohibited Council members elected under the current at-large system from serving on the Council after August 15.

The Appeals Court stayed Palazuelos' decision pending the City's appeal ("Appeals Court Rules City Council Can Remain Pending Voting Rights Appeal," March 27, 2019).

In its request for a lengthier brief, the City noted the length of the documents in the lower court case.

"The trial court’s statement of decision is 71 pages, and its judgment is 15 pages," the City's attorneys wrote.

"The reporters’ transcript on appeal exceeds 5,500 pages, and the City estimates that its appendix will exceed 9,000 pages."

The City's legal filings in the case have been lengthy.

In January, the City's attorneys submitted a statement opposing the lower court's ruling that amounted to 62,000-words, the length of such classic novels as "The Scarlet Letter," "Brave New World" and "The Martian Chronicles."

The document addressed all of the issues raised at trial, City Attorney Jane Dilg said at the time ("City Submits Book-Length Response in Voting Rights Lawsuit," January 22, 2019).

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