Citing issues with the California Voting Rights Act making it “incredibly easy” for a governing board to get sued, some state legislators are looking for their own remedy, Assemblyman Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, said Thursday.
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“If you read the law itself, it’s very poorly written,” Wilk said. “And I think you are going to see legislation introduced in January that’s going to make it clearer so the processes can’t be abused.”
Attorney Kevin Shenkman, who’s representing two plaintiffs suing the Sulphur Springs School District, the Santa Clarita Community College District and the city of Santa Clarita over alleged California Voting Rights Act violations, said a repeal or major overhaul of the law is “not likely.”
“It’s not going to happen,” Shenkman said, when asked whether legislation could affect his lawsuits against local school districts and the city of Santa Clarita.
“I’m sure that the California Voting Rights Act will get repealed as soon as the Affordable Care Act gets repealed.”
A report created by demographers for Redistricting Partners, which was paid for by local school districts more than a year before the lawsuits were filed, claim that almost any governing board is susceptible to such a lawsuit.
Wilk declined to cite the name of the state senator he had spoken with who was planning to author the bill, only that the person was a Democrat, and the effort had Wilk’s support.
“I’ve reached out and talked to him and shared my concern,” Wilk said. “He’s drafting the legislation and he’s spending the time meeting with various stakeholders, and he’ll come back with a clean piece of legislation.”
Wilk was on the Santa Clarita Community College District’s Board of Trustees when the governing body authorized more than $30,000 to look at demographics to make sure the district was in compliance with the California Voting Rights Act.
“I remember some people criticizing (that we paid for the study), with so many cuts that (school officials) had to make,” Wilk said, referring to the cost of the survey. The assemblyman likened the move to “an insurance policy.”
Wilk left the Santa Clarita Community College District board before the report was issued, when he was elected to the state’s Assembly in 2012.
“I personally think that the firms that filed the suit are shopping,” Wilk said, “and trying to do a quick hit.”
There has never been a successful defense against a lawsuit that claims a CVRA violation, which was upheld as constitutional when the state’s Supreme Court declined to review a December 2006 decision by the state’s appellate court in Sanchez v. Modesto.
Since the Santa Clarita Valley lawsuits, the city of Whittier has been sued of the CVRA, and Shenkman has won a preliminary decision against the city of Palmdale, where officials have vowed to fight the decision.
Santa Clarita Valley and Palmdale officials have attacked Shenkman on the grounds that these suits can lead to multi-million-dollar settlements that are paid for by the taxpayer. The legal fees for Modesto city officials exceeded $3 million. Such a settlement was likely in the Palmdale case, Shenkman said.
“All of their attacks against me are about me wanting to make money,” Shenkman said. “But they have always had, and still have, the ability to stop me from making any more money, and I invite and encourage them to do that.”
The next step in Palmdale is a Sept. 30 hearing, where a judge will decide on an injunction that could stop Palmdale officials from holding an election in November.
In a California Voting Rights Act lawsuit, a judge who finds a governing body in violation has broad discretion in determining a remedy, whether it’s to look at drawing up districts, or to look at different voting methods.
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Source: Santa Clarita News