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Lawyer in Voting Rights Act suit says Palmdale ruling should ‘send a message’

Posted: August 1, 2013 5:23 p.m.
Updated: August 1, 2013 5:23 p.m.

Lawsuits filed against three public agencies in the Santa Clarita Valley alleging violations of the 2001 California Voting Rights Act could go to trial in the next 12 to 18 months, a lawyer involved in the cases said Thursday.

Unless a settlement is reached in those cases, said Kevin Shenkman, a partner with the Malibu firm Shenkman & Hughes, trial could begin in as little as a year.

Shenkman & Hughes, along with the law firm of Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris, filed lawsuits recently alleges Voting Rights Act violations against the city of Santa Clarita, the Santa Clarita Community College District and the Sulphur Springs School District.

A Superior Court judge ruled against Palmdale in a similar lawsuit last month, saying that city’s at-large election system prevented minority voters from electing candidates of their choice — a violation of the Voting Rights Act.

“We’re very pleased with the judge’s ruling and I think this does, or at least it should, send a message to other jurisdictions, including those in Santa Clarita,” Shenkman said Thursday.

Officials from Santa Clarita and College of the Canyons have said they plan to contest the suits, and Palmdale officials have said they will appeal the Superior Court judge’s ruling.

Shenkman said he would not comment on whether his firm plans to file suits against other agencies in the Santa Clarita Valley. Nearly all the public agencies in the Santa Clarita Valley hold at-large elections.

The Malibu lawyer also said he could not discuss how the firm approaches lawsuits — whether it does research into potential Voting Rights Act violations or whether the firm only looks into claims made by potential plaintiffs.
“I’m not going to discuss conversations with our clients,” he said.

Shenkman did say the firm has decided to file a lawsuit against the Lancaster School District.

Meanwhile the city of Lancaster will hold a town hall meeting Tuesday night to discuss possible changes to its election system — an at-large system.

“Lancaster is a diverse city with people from all walks of life residing here,” Parris said in a news release. “The City Council deeply values the opinions of our residents and hopes this town hall meeting will provide a viable opportunity for all to get engaged in their local political system.”
On Twitter @LukeMMoney



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