[KHTS] A superior court judge again upheld the legality of cumulative voting, which was again challenged by language in a statement by city of Santa Clarita attorneys.
The move led to speculation in open court Monday that a new lawsuit challenging the legality of cumulative voting could be forthcoming, officials said.
The question came up because city of Santa Clarita officials filed legal briefs questioning whether cumulative voting was legal — after agreeing to adopt cumulative voting as a remedy for an alleged California Voting Rights Act violation.
Santa Clarita City Council members voted 4-1 to adopt cumulative voting and move elections to even-numbered years during a closed session meeting in March.
The move was part of a California Voting Rights Act lawsuit settlement, which alleged Hispanic voters were being denied the ability to pick their candidate of choice due to the existence of racially polarized voting.
Cumulative voting is commonly used in corporate America, and several cities have used it to remedy a Voting Rights Act violation. It’s a system in which, for example, if there were three City Council seats on the ballot, the voter could vote for three different candidates or give all three of his or her votes to one candidate.
Judge Terry Green denied a motion in July brought forth by attorneys for the city of Santa Clarita, who contended city officials didn’t have the authority to enact the agreed-upon settlement terms of the lawsuit brought forth by two residents, Jim Soliz and Rosemarie Sanchez-Fraser.
An attorney for plaintiffs, Soliz and Sanchez-Fraser, called the city’s stance “bizarre,” and questioned why Santa Clarita city officials would authorize a settlement and then question its legality, in a previous interview.
Another attempt Monday by city attorneys to insert language to make the remedy sound illegal prompted speculation in court the city would support a civil lawsuit against cumulative voting.
Joe Montes, the city of Santa Clarita’s attorney for this case, didn’t return a call seeking comment Monday afternoon.
In a previous interview, Montes said the city would re-evaluate how to proceed after Monday’s ruling.
“If cumulative voting is not permitted and we’re not allowed to change the election date, then the parties will have to confer again as to how the matter will proceed,” Montes said in a previous interview. “It could mean that the litigation resumes, it could mean settlement talks could have to resume — that’s just too far off to speculate at this point.”
Kevin Shenkman, the attorney for Soliz and Sanchez-Fraser, said if the city continued to challenge the agreed-upon remedy, whether in the instant case or another, then officials would risk another lawsuit, which could have greater consequences for city officials.
“What we will do if that occurs, is we will file another CVRA lawsuit,” Shenkman said, “and we will insist on the same sort of relief that was obtained in our case against the city of Palmdale.”
A similar lawsuit against Palmdale alleging CVRA violations is still being fought in appeals, but Shenkman was awarded more than $3.6 million in fees and is seeking to have Palmdale City Council members held in contempt for purporting to be council members past July 9 in defiance of the court’s judgment, he said. Palmdale has also been ordered to go to district-based elections.
No party has ever successfully defended a California Voting Rights Act lawsuit, according to officials.
If a private party files a suit challenging cumulative voting in Santa Clarita, Shenkman said, then that party will ultimately be held responsible for any legal fees incurred to defend that lawsuit. Shenkman & Hughes would view such a lawsuit as an attack on minority voters’ rights, Shenkman said, and do whatever it takes to ensure that private party faces the consequences – which would almost certainly include being on the wrong side of a judgment for several hundreds of thousands of dollars.