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Appeals Court Rules Against Palmdale In Voting Rights Act Case

Appeals Court Rules Against Palmdale In Voting Rights Act Case

Days before a lawsuit against the Santa Clarita Community College District on similar grounds is expected to be begin trial, an appellate court upheld a decision against Palmdale regarding an accusation the Antelope Valley city violates the California Voting Rights Act with its elections.

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“We’re very happy with the Court of Appeals decision confirming Judge (Mark) Mooney’s rulings were correct,” said Kevin Shenkman, the attorney for the plaintiff in the case. “We look forward to the day when the Palmdale City Council members recognize they must comply with the California Voting Rights Act.”

A call to Palmdale officials was not immediately returned Wednesday.

Rosemarie Sanchez-Fraser and Jim Soliz discuss their California Voting Rights Act lawsuits (Click the photo to link to video)

If Palmdale decides to continue to challenge the ruling, the next step would be to ask for a review of the decision from the state’s Supreme Court.

Trial is set to begin Monday in a similar lawsuit against the SCCCD, alleging the governing body for College of the Canyons’s two Santa Clarita Valley campuses are in violation of the California Voting Rights Act with at-large elections.

Related article: Judge Issues Tentative CVRA Ruling On COC Lawsuit; Trial To Start In June

Santa Clarita Community College officials repeatedly expressed a desire to fight the lawsuit.

A judge dismissed a summary motion May 14 requested by the Santa Clarita Community College District, which sought to dismiss the suit.

The law firm of Nielsen Merksamer, which represents the Santa Clarita Community College District, is also a firm listed as one of Palmdale’s attorneys in the CVRA suit.

In the tentative ruling in May for the SCCCD suit, Judge Rolf Treu declares the fact that no Latino candidate has run for the SCCCD board in the last 21 years is irrelevant to the case. He also discounts the need for the plaintiffs to establish a majority Hispanic district in the Santa Clarita Valley, which is a SCCCD contention.

Treu also found fault with experts on both sides, noting the SCCCD’s expert, Jonathan Katz, a Caltech professor, looked at too limited of a sample in denying the existence of racially polarized voting; the data considered by the plaintiff’s expert, Morgan Kousser, who’s also a Caltech professor, did not have a proper foundation establishing its relevance.

Two Santa Clarita Valley entities, the city of Santa Clarita and the Sulphur Springs School District, have already settled similar suits claiming their at-large elections violate the CVRA due to the existence of racially polarized voting.

College of the Canyons's Canyon Country campus (photo by Jessica Boyer)

Both entities noted no such lawsuit has ever been successfully defended, and the cost of such a suit could cost more than $1 million to defend.

Related article: Voting Rights Expert Looks At Conditions For A CVRA Violation

Shenkman, who worked with Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris and Milton Grimes in the three Santa Clarita Valley lawsuits, estimated attorney fees in excess of $5 million in the Palmdale case in a court motion due within 30 days of the initial judgment.

The city of Modesto challenged the constitutionality of the law in 2007; however, in that case the state’s Supreme Court refused to hear the case, and the city wound up settling for approximately $3 million in attorney fees after losing two decisions.

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Appeals Court Rules Against Palmdale In Voting Rights Act Case

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About Perry Smith

Perry Smith is a print and broadcast journalist who has won several awards for his focused, hyperlocal community coverage in several different regions of the country. In addition to five years of experience covering the Santa Clarita Valley, Smith, a San Fernando Valley native, has worked in newspapers and news websites in Los Angeles, the Northwest, the Central Valley and the South, before coming to KHTS in 2012. To contact Smith, email him at