California Supreme Court justices will not review an appellate panel’s decision finding Palmdale’s at-large elections violate the California Voting Rights Act, an attorney for the plaintiff said Wednesday.
“Palmdale is running out of options and will have to soon face the fact that its elections have been illegal,” said Kevin Shenkman, who represents the plaintiffs.
“We’re very pleased that the California Supreme Court has denied another one of Palmdale’s frivolous appeals, which is an extreme abuse of its taxpayers’ dollars,” he said.
Palmdale officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the decision.
Shenkman also is representing the plaintiffs in cases that were filed against several Santa Clarita Valley entities.
The status of those lawsuit settlements is still being determined, as the city of Santa Clarita — one of three entities that entered into settlement negotiations with Shenkman & Hughes — recently questioned the validity of their own settlement with a motion due to be addressed Sept. 5.
From a previous story:
The filing is a result of Santa Clarita officials’ uncertainty over whether their agreed-upon settlement is legal and feasible, said Joe Montes, Santa Clarita city attorney.
“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. “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.”
Shenkman, who represents the plaintiffs against the city, Jim Solizand Rosemarie Sanchez-Fraser, called the city’s stance “bizarre,” and questioned why Santa Clarita city officials would authorize a settlement and then question its legality.
“The CVRA gives the power to courts to find appropriate remedies for a California Voting Rights Act violation,” said Kevin Shenkman, who’s representing the plaintiffs. “In a lot of ways, the city would prefer to do cumulative voting (as opposed to district-based elections), so (the brief) doesn’t make any sense.”
The following is a Press Release issued by the City of Palmdale on Aug. 20, 2014
City of Palmdale Preparing Final Appeal Briefs in Wake of California Supreme Court Denial of Petition
The City of Palmdale is preparing final briefs on the original trial decision in the California Voting Rights Act lawsuit after the California Supreme Court denied the City’s petition for review in the California Voting Rights Act without comment.
Palmdale had appealed to the Supreme Court over the certification issue in the Nov. 2013 election and the Charter City issue in which the California Constitution grants the “plenary authority” to cities to conduct elections. (California Constitution, Article 11, Section 5 b.)
In the Nov. election, Fred Thompson became the first African-American to be elected to the Palmdale City Council. However, a lawsuit filed by plaintiff’s attorneys Kevin Shenkman and Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris, prevented certification of the election. Thompson was subsequently appointed to a Council seat when former Councilmember Laura Bettencourt resigned. Bettencourt did not seek re-election for her seat in Nov. 2013.
Thompson, a retired community college dean who formerly served on the Palmdale Planning Commission and Palmdale School District board, while being the first African-American to win a City Council seat, was not the first minority candidate, to win a Citywide election. Antonio Soza was elected to the Council in 1978, and subsequently appointed as Vice Mayor, and served until his term expired in 1982. Richard Loa was elected to the council in 2001 and served until 2005 when he was appointed by the Governor to serve on the California Board of Prison Terms.
“The appeal of the final decision is currently pending in the Court of Appeals,” said Palmdale City Attorney Matthew Ditzhazy. “That appeal is primarily over the evidence submitted and the trial court’s remedies which include districts, changed election dates, shortened terms of council members and other items. We are currently preparing our briefs for submission later this month.”
“While we are disappointed that the Supreme Court is not taking up this case, we are moving forward in the Court of Appeals to work toward protecting our citizens’ constitutional right to determine the manner and method of electing their city leaders,” said Assistant City Attorney Noel Doran. “We are stunned that the actions of the plaintiffs allegedly in the name of minority rights have actually resulted in preventing an African-American from holding office. It wasn’t long ago when the plaintiffs complained that Mr. Thompson’s prior inability to get elected to the City Council was evidence that Latinos and African-Americans lacked access to the political process. Now that he’s been elected, they question whether or not he was the minority ‘candidate of choice.’”