Attorney Kevin Shenkman
A judge found Wednesday in favor of the plaintiffs in a civil rights discrimination suit against the city of Palmdale.
Judge Mark Mooney found the city of Palmdale was in violation of the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 with its at-large election.
The attorneys representing the plaintiffs in that suit also are involved in a lawsuit against the city of Santa Clarita and two local school districts.
“After an eight-day trial in May and a careful analysis of the evidence and the law, the court found that the city of Palmdale is in violation of the California Voting Rights Act,” said Kevin Shenkman, of Shenkman and Hughes, “and that the California Voting Rights Act is constitutional in its application to the city of Palmdale.”
The city of Santa Clarita, and the Sulphur Springs and Santa Clarita Community College districts have both been accused of violating the California Voting Rights Act with their at-large electoral systems.
The experts looked at Palmdale’s City Council elections since 2000, during which time only one Latino and no blacks had been elected, and found there was racially polarized voting.
“The failure of minority candidates to be elected to office does not by itself establish the presence of racially polarized voting,” said Mooney, in his six-page finding. “However, the regression analysis undertaken by both experts nevertheless established a clear history of a difference between the choice of candidates preferred by the protected class and the choice of the non-protected class.”
In these cases, the statistical experts look at how a “protected class,” i.e. any minority population or an area — be it white, black, Asian, Latino or any other — votes as a block.
If a particular race tends to vote in a block regarding issues that affect that race or others, then a pattern of racially polarized voting may be determined.
In the three local cases, the lawsuits cite how voters tended to vote in similar blocks regarding Propositions 187 and 209.
The city of Palmdale’s statistical expert, Douglas Johnson, produced results that were “not stark,” according to the finding, however, “the existence of racially polarized voting could not be denied.”
Mooney’s brief also notes that proof of an intent to discriminate is not required to find a city’s at-large election in violation of the California Voting Rights Act of 2001.
The next step for the city of Palmdale is to either object to the finding or allow the court’s finding to become final.
The city if the decision becomes final, the city will be found liable for the cost of legal fees for the plaintiffs’ attorneys, which includes Shenkman & Hughes, R. Rex Parris Law Firm and Law Offices of Milton C. Grimes.
That figure is expected to be “north of $1 million,” according to Shenkman.
The Palmdale trial concluded May 15, and the court required written closing statements June 6.
R. Rex Parris is the mayor of the city of Lancaster, which is next to Palmdale.
The California Voting Rights Act was signed into law by Gov. Gray Davis in 2001, and deemed constitutional by the state’s Supreme Court in the 2006 case of Sanchez v. the City of Modesto.
That case ended up costing the city of Modesto more than $3 million in legal fees.
The Sulphur Springs School District lawsuit alleges that the district comprises a portion of the city of Santa Clarita with 56,256 residents, and 30.6 percent of the registered voters in that district are Latino.
“The Latino population located within the SSSD is geographically concentrated, particularly in the pockets of the Newhall and Canyon Country neighborhoods,” according to the lawsuit.
The Palmdale case is the first brought to trial by Shenkman & Hughes.
The city and school districts were served with suits that were filed June 26, and the parties have 30 days to respond to the suit.