On the day trial was to begin in a lawsuit alleging the College of the Canyons’s elections for its governing board violated the California Voting Rights Act, a lawyer for the college district indicated a willingness to enter into settlement talks, a COC official said Wednesday.
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“Our attorneys are ready to go to trial,” said Eric Harnish, vice president of public information for the Santa Clarita Community College District. “However, they have been authorized to attend a court-supervised settlement conference.”
While there was no vote taken, the board provided direction to attorneys for the district regarding settlement talks, which was not a reportable action. The conference is expected to take place over the next two days.
Harnish confirmed a two-hour meeting took place Tuesday night, and the topic was the lawsuit the college is facing, according to a board agenda item posted online.
“I’m hopeful that they’ll come to the table Thursday and Friday in a serious way and that’s the best thing for everyone involved,” said Kevin Shenkman, attorney for Jim Soliz and Rosemarie Sanchez-Fraser. “If it doesn’t settle, the trial will start on Monday.”
A lawsuit filed in June of last year claimed the governing board for the College of the Canyons was in violation of the California Voting Rights Act with at-large elections.
Prior to Wednesday, there have been no mediation efforts between the college’s governing board and the plaintiffs’ representatives, Shenkman said.
The plaintiffs’ side offered to enter into settlement talks, but those efforts had been rebuffed until Wednesday morning, Shenkman said.
The SCCCD, which is the governing board for College of the Canyons’s two Santa Clarita Valley campuses, would be the only local entity to take a CVRA lawsuit to trial.
Judge Rolf Treu denied the Santa Clarita Community College District’s request for a summary judgment dismissing the lawsuit alleging a violation of the CVRA last month.
Shenkman garnered settlements in lawsuits against the Sulphur Springs School District and the city of Santa Clarita. Those changes are expected to take place in the 2015 and 2016 elections, respectively.
The city agreed to move its election to November of even-numbered years and allow for cumulative voting, which means, for example, in a City Council race with three seats, a voter would receive three votes he or she could cast in any combination for the candidates.
The Sulphur Springs School District agreed to go to districting, which would divide the district’s coverage area into boundaries, and an elected official would represent a specific area. District officials will not be moving their election year.
Both entities acknowledged the enormous cost of fighting such a claim, as well as the fact that no such claim has ever been successfully defended, as part of the reason for settling.
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Source: Santa Clarita News