City officials reported Tuesday from closed session that the city of Santa Clarita will fight a lawsuit posed by the law firm of Shenkman and Hughes, which alleges civil rights discrimination.
The report followed a lengthy discussion that City Council were advised not to comment on, according to Joe Montes, city attorney for Santa Clarita.
“The city has decided to defend the lawsuit and the city attorney’s office will be issuing a statement,” said city Councilman TimBen Boydston. “Because we are in litigation at this time, it would not be correct for me to make a statement at this time.”
The suit alleges that the city’s system of at-large elections for its council members discriminates against Latino voters.
Latino voters make up nearly one-third of the city’s population, according to the suit, which cites the fact that, while there have been Latino candidates, none have ever been successful.
“The city has just recently been served with this action,” according to Montes’ statement. “The city had no prior notice of the allegations of a violation of the California Voting Rights Act, or that the action would be filed. The city takes the allegation of the complaint seriously.”
The city is hiring two firms to defend itself in the lawsuit, Burke, Williams & Sorensen LLP, which is the firm Montes works for, and Nielsen Merksamer Parrinello Gross and Leoni LLP.
Nielsen Merksamer was chosen to assist because of their experience with Voting Rights Act litigation, Montes said.
In a recent KHTS interview, Kevin Shenkman, an attorney for Shenkman and Hughes, said settling the discrimination claim without litigation would be the best thing for all parties, because such action can be costly.
A similar suit filed against the city of Modesto ended in more than $3 million in legal fees, according to Shenkman, who is also representing plaintiffs in lawsuits against the Sulphur Springs School District and the Santa Clarita Community College District.
“It’s a sensitive matter for the city,” said Santa Clarita Mayor Bob Kellar, “and (City Council members) certainly do not want to make any statement that might be problematic for the city.”