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Groups Supporting City Fight Back in Voting Rights Case

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By Jorge Casuso

July 20, 2021 -- Four Santa Monica organizations that support the City's position in the voting rights case asked the California Supreme Court on Monday to strike a motion by the plaintiffs to toss their amicus brief.

The request calls the Latino plaintiffs' motion, filed on July 8 by their lead attorney, Kevin Shenkman, "frivolous" and "grounded on baseless speculation" about the groups and their counsel ("Plaintiffs in Voting Rights Case Ask Court to Strike Opposing Brief," July 9, 2021).

Attorneys Chris Harding and Joseph Pertel -- who wrote the groups' amicus brief in support of the City -- argue that the four groups are legitimate civic organizations whose position should be taken into consideration.

The organizations are the League of Women Voters of Santa Monica, the Alliance of Santa Monica Latino and Black Voters, the Human Relations Council Santa Monica Bay Area (HRC) and Community for Excellent Public Schools (CEPS).

"Plaintiffs’ counsel, based on his sparse research and clear lack of knowledge of Santa Monica, claims he was unable to determine the organizational status of three of the amicus entities (the Alliance, the HRC, and CEPS)" Harding and Pertel wrote.

"Plaintiffs’ counsel then jumped to the conclusion that these organizations must not be legitimate and, in two cases (the Alliance and CEPS), may have been 'conjured up' by Amici’s counsel."

In his motion to strike the groups' brief, Shenkman wrote that the three organizations are "merely high-minded sounding titles for private individuals who seek to advance their personal views or agendas cloaked behind those impressive-sounding names."

In their response, Harding and Pertel include declarations from leaders of the four groups.

In his declaration on behalf of the Alliance, former Mayor Nat Trives said the "ad hoc group" he chairs with former mayor Tony Vazquez, was "formed for the specific purpose of participating as an Amicus Curiae in this case.

"The Alliance consists of approximately 25-30 Latino and Black community leaders and voters," Trives wrote.

"Mr. Vazquez and I formed the Alliance because we believe it is very important for the Court to consider this case from the perspective of Latino and Black community leaders with extensive on-the-ground experience in Santa Monica."

John Maceri, executive director of The People Concern and chair of the Human Relations Council, said the group formed in 2004 is "a non-profit organization composed of community organizations, institutions, businesses, and individuals that promotes a culture of fair treatment, inclusion and equal access to opportunities."

CEPS Treasurer Debbie Mulvaney wrote in her declaration that the group "is composed of a steering committee of twenty-four (24) actively involved citizens who share a vision and commitment to excellence in public schools."

The group has supported state and local funding measures for public education and backed candidates in local races, Mulvaney said.

Had Shenkman "conducted a simple Yahoo or Google internet search of these organizations3 and individuals," Harding and Pertel wrote, he would have learned about them "without taking up the Court’s time with his baseless motion to strike."

In their 63-page amicus brief on behalf of the groups, the two attorneys echo that City's argument that Latino voters have regularly elected both Latino candidates and Latino-preferred candidates under the current at-large system and that switching to district elections would reduce Latino voting power.

In addition, the brief focuses on an argument the City has not developed at length -- that the standards for voter dilution set by the Federal Voting Rights Act and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court should "inform" the key issue in the Santa Monica case.

"Plaintiffs and their counsel clearly do not want this Court to read and consider the Amicus Brief," Harding and Pertel wrote in their motion. "Plaintiffs are, understandably, concerned about the legal arguments set forth" in the brief.

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