Malibu attorney Kevin Shenkman
[KHTS] – City officials met Tuesday with Malibu attorney Kevin Shenkman about California Voting Rights Act lawsuit he filed against the city of Santa Clarita.
At City Hall on Tuesday, the two sides discussed potential legal remedies for the lawsuit, which claims that the access of minority voters, specifically Hispanic ones, is being limited by Santa Clarita’s at-large elections.
“Settlement discussions are continuing and we are very hopeful that they will result in a resolution that is good for everyone concerned,” Shenkman said.
Shenkman declined to discuss any specifics as far as potential remedies for the alleged California Voting Rights Act violation.
City of Santa Clarita officials also have remained tight-lipped about the lawsuit, citing the fact that it’s a pending legal action.
“We are in ongoing discussions with the plaintiffs concerning the case,” said Santa Clarita City Attorney Joe Montes of Burke, Williams and Sorensen, declining to discuss any case specifics.
Attorneys for the Santa Clarita Community College District sought a continuance Monday in the case, which was denied.
The California Voting Rights Act lawsuit against the Santa Clarita Community College District is set for court June 2.
There is no court records of any discussion of mediation in that case, or the case against the Sulphur Springs School District.
The Santa Clarita meeting comes on the heels of Shenkman & Hughes’ thus-far successful litigation of Juaregui v. Palmdale.
The Palmdale case involved a similar claim, in which Judge Mark V. Mooney found Palmdale in violation of the CVRA with a final statement in December.
Palmdale refused all potential talks to settle the case out of court, Shenkman said.
Palmdale officials have vowed to challenge that decision, which included a judge’s order that the city draw up districts and hold a new election by July 9, until all appeals have been exhausted.
The plaintiffs in the Santa Clarita CVRA suit are Jim Soliz and Rosemarie Sanchez-Fraser, who spoke with KHTS AM-1220 in September.
Santa Clarita Valley school officials commissioned a report anticipating the potential for such lawsuits, and the result was a report that cited vulnerability to California Voting Rights Act lawsuits.
Critics of the Santa Clarita Valley lawsuits have characterized the California Voting Rights Act lawsuits as “frivolous” and a “money grab.”
Soliz described these criticisms as “disingenuous,” and said he is seeking equality, not any sort of financial gain.
The report cited the fact that it’s “incredibly easy” to file such a suit, which can generally be proved on two conditions — the existence of racially polarized voting, and the fact that the minority group frequently loses.
“The law does not create an oversight agency or deadline,” according to a report by Paul Mitchell of Redistricting Partners. “But makes it incredibly easy for plaintiffs to sue a district and have the court intervene and draw district lines that would empower the ethnic community.”
However, these conditions were also cited in defense of the lawsuit by California Voting Rights Act expert J. Morgan Kousser, who argued the law was written in broader terms than the Federal Voting Rights to make it less expensive to either bring forth or defend a claim against a violation.
“It’s in order to cut costs more than anything else — in order to bring suits and reduce the bureaucracy,” Kousser said.
In California, a plaintiff doesn’t have to prove an intent to discriminate on the basis of race or religion, or that a district could be comprised of a majority of the protected class bringing suit, Kousser said.
Kousser has testified for plaintiffs in numerous lawsuits.
One of the remedies, to move elections to even-numbered years to line up with the general elections — the idea being to increase turnout and therefore voter access, was attempted by local school districts last year.
The move was nixed by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in a 2-2-1 vote, who said the county’s current balloting system was not equipped to handle all of the county’s ballots at once.
Tuesday’s meeting was reportedly mediated by Antonio Piazza, a renowned expert in the field of negotiating such situations, who agreed to look at both sides’ cases gratis.
If Palmdale loses the case, the city would be on the hook for what would likely amount to several million dollars in legal fees, something Santa Clarita city officials could be trying to avoid through the mediation process.
Santa Clarita city officials referred all inquiries to the city attorney’s office.