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Letter warned Santa Clarita of voting rights lawsuit, lawyer says; city says letter was not received

Posted: July 12, 2013 6:51 p.m.
Updated: July 12, 2013 6:51 p.m.

While Santa Clarita officials said this week they never received advance notice of a lawsuit alleging the city’s system for electing City Council members unfairly dilutes the Latino vote, one of the lawyers who brought the case says he notified the city of the possibility more than a month beforehand.

Kevin Shenkman, a lawyer with the Malibu-based firm Shenkman and Hughes, which is representing plaintiffs in the suit against the city, said Friday that he sent a letter to the city in early May, weeks before the city received the lawsuit itself on June 26.

The letter, dated May 2 and obtained by The Signal Thursday night, is addressed to the city of Santa Clarita at 23920 Valencia Boulevard, the address of City Hall.

The letter briefly details many of the allegations that would form the foundation for the Voting Rights Act lawsuit that was filed against the city.

It cautioned that failure to act on the city’s part would result in legal action and asked for a response by June 3.

“The letter basically invites a conversation, and we’re still hoping for that conversation,” Shenkman said.

City officials, however, say they never received such a letter, and Shenkman said he never followed up with anyone at the city to confirm the letter was received.

City Attorney Joe Montes, who released a statement earlier this week saying the city “had no prior notice of the allegations of a violation of the California Voting Rights Act, or that the action would be filed,” said Friday he had never seen the letter.

Had the letter been sent to City Hall, city spokeswoman Gail Ortiz said, it would have immediately been forwarded on to Montes.

“And the city attorney has no record of receiving such a letter,” she said Friday.

Both the lawsuit and the letter claim the city’s at-large method of electing council members, in which voters throughout the city choose members from a common pool of candidates, prevents Latino voters from electing candidates of their choice.

The suit also alleges that elections in Santa Clarita are “racially polarized,” with Latino voters supporting candidates of their choice and the rest of the electorate voting against them.

The city is one of three local agencies facing Voting Rights Act lawsuits. Similar suits have also been filed against College of the Canyons and the Sulphur Springs School District.

Both Santa Clarita and the college have announced they will fight the lawsuits.
On Twitter @LukeMMoney



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