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Lawyer in Voting Rights Act cases seeks to stop Palmdale elections

Posted: August 7, 2013 7:01 p.m.
Updated: August 7, 2013 7:01 p.m.

A lawyer who won a Superior Court decision against Palmdale for holding at-large elections, which he says violates the California Voting Rights Act, is trying to block the city’s scheduled November City Council election.

But Palmdale City Attorney Matthew Ditzhazy said an injunction against the fall election would leave the city without a quorum on its council.

“If there is no election, then the city ends up with only two council members and three empty seats and a total inability to transact business,” Ditzhazy said Wednesday.

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled in July that Palmdale’s at-large system — whereby citizens can vote for all seats up for election, not just one based on the district in which they live — violated the 2001 California Voting Rights Act.

The lawsuit was brought by the Malibu firm of Shenkman & Hughes, which has also sued Santa Clarita, the Sulphur Springs School District and the Santa Clarita Community College District for employing the same election system. The lawsuits allege such a system denies minority voices in the election process.

“We could not wait any longer, nor should the minority citizens of Palmdale be forced to wait any longer for justice,” firm partner Kevin Shenkman wrote in an email. His firm filed a request for an injunction to halt Palmdale’s election.

Ditzhazy said it was premature to ask for an injunction before the legal process regarding the Palmdale case is complete.

“The City Council has already directed my office to appeal once we have a final decision,” Ditzhazy said. “It seems that Mr. Shenkman is simply furthering his efforts to ‘run the meter’ on his legal costs in this case.

“His actions are reprehensible.”

A hearing on the injunction is scheduled Sept. 30, according to Shenkman.

Plaintiffs in the Palmdale case and the suits filed against Santa Clarita, the community college district and Sulphur Springs are represented by Shenkman & Hughes as well as the law firm of Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris.

Shenkman said his firm has filed a similar suit alleging violations of the Voting Rights Act against the Lancaster School District, but Parris’ law firm is not involved in that suit.

“The whole situation in Lancaster demonstrates the absurdity of these cases,” Palmdale Mayor James C. Ledford said in a news release. “I’m sure Parris dropped out of the school district case to avoid the bad publicity he’d get out of ‘fleecing his own flock,’ since the bulk of the Lancaster School District lies solidly within the city of Lancaster.”

Though it is not the target of any litigation at this time, Lancaster has created a committee to examine its election system to see if it, too, could be a target for a Voting Rights Act lawsuit.

Parris could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
On Twitter @LukeMMoney




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