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Palmdale City Council elections halted as a result of Voting Rights Act lawsuit

Posted: October 1, 2013 2:58 p.m.
Updated: October 1, 2013 2:58 p.m.

SANTA CLARITA - A Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled this week that Palmdale cannot hold its scheduled City Council elections in November.

The decision was made on a ruling he handed down earlier this year that those same elections are a violation of the California Voting Rights Act.

Judge Mark Mooney granted a preliminary injunction against the planned City Council elections on Nov. 5. The injunction was sought by the plaintiffs in the case after Mooney ruled Palmdale’s at-large voting system — wherein voters can cast ballots for all seats up for election, not just one within a single district — prevented minority voters from electing candidates of their choice.

Doing so is a violation of the California Voting Rights Act, Mooney ruled.

Kevin Shenkman, one of the lawyers involved in the case, said he was pleased with the judge’s ruling.

“Justice too long delayed is justice denied; in Palmdale, justice will no longer be delayed,” Shenkman wrote in an email.
Shenkman said he expects Palmdale will be required to hold district-based special elections in 2014 as a result of the judge’s decision.

“We expect that the court will set a district-based special election for either June or November of 2014, and we trust that the citizens of Palmdale will tell the council members what they think about their decision to spend millions of taxpayer dollars to cling to their racially discriminatory illegal election scheme to protect their own incumbencies,” Shenkman wrote.

The plaintiffs in the Palmdale case are represented by attorneys from the Malibu law firm Shenkman and Hughes and the law firm of Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris. Both firms are also involved in similar Voting Rights Act lawsuits against the city of Santa Clarita, Santa Clarita Community College District and Sulphur Springs School District.

In each case, the lawsuits allege that at-large voting systems prevent minority voters from electing candidates of their choice.

Palmdale has already vowed to appeal the ruling, with Palmdale City Attorney Matthew Ditzhazy saying it “strikes at the heart of our republic, directly thwarting the will of the people.”

“We regard this as a wildly unprecedented and radical ruling,” said Ditzhazy in a news release. “There has never been a reported case in California where a Superior Court judge has enjoined a regularly scheduled election five weeks before people are scheduled to go to the polls.”

Ditzhazy also noted that of the four candidates running for the City Council’s two open seats, three are minorities.

“That means at least one and possibly two minority candidates would be elected to the Palmdale City Council in November if the election were held,” he said.

Parris said the ruling upholds the rights of minority voters in Palmdale.

“For far too long already, the African American and Latino citizens of Palmdale have been disenfranchised,” he said in a statement. “No longer should they be forced to wait for their rights while the city thumbs its nose at the law,”

The council members in Palmdale will remain seated until an election is held, according to Ditzhazy.
On Twitter @LukeMMoney



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