[KHTS] – Trial is set to begin Wednesday in a lawsuit alleging the Santa Clarita Community College District’s at-large elections violate the California Voting Rights Act.
The SCCCD, which is the governing board for College of the Canyons’s two Santa Clarita Valley campuses, is the only local entity to take a CVRA lawsuit to trial.
“The college’s (demographic) consultant told them that they are violating the law, our expert found that they were violating the law — we had hoped that (SCCCD officials) wouldn’t go down that path,” said Kevin Shenkman, a lawyer for the suit’s plaintiffs, Jim Soliz and Rosemarie Sanchez-Fraser.
“It’s shocking that COC would do the same thing,” said Shenkman, who added Palmdale could face eight-figure legal fees in the if the city continues to fight.
Santa Clarita Community College District officials declined to comment on this story, because the lawsuit is part of ongoing litigation.
Wednesday’s trial comes one week after a three-judge appellate court panel ruled in the plaintiffs’ favor in a CVRA lawsuit against Palmdale.
In that case, the court rejected the defendant’s claim that charter cities are granted a means to select their own officials different from general law cities, according to the state’s constitution.
Palmdale City Council members are expected to make decision as to whether the city will continue to fight the lawsuit, said Palmdale City Attorney Matthew Ditzhazy.
“Certainly, we are disappointed that the will of the voters, who elected the first African-American to the City Council, will not be honored at this time,” Ditzhazy said. “I’m also disappointed in the ruling by the court of appeals as to the authority of charter cities under the California constitution to prescribe the manner and method of electing their councilmembers.”
Both Santa Clarita and Sulphur Springs School District leaders voted to settle CVRA lawsuits filed in June of last year.
Officials in both of those cases noted no defense of a CVRA lawsuit has ever been successful, and the cost of fighting such a suit could likely range in the millions of dollars, as part of the justification for their respective settlements.
Nielsen Merksamer is the law firm defending the SCCCD, which is a firm also representing Palmdale officials in their legal battle.