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COC voting lawsuit set to move ahead

Posted: June 3, 2014 6:51 p.m.
Updated: June 3, 2014 6:51 p.m.

In a two-hour closed-door session Tuesday, College of the Canyons trustees wrangled over a lawsuit against the Santa Clarita Community College District alleging violations of the California Voting Rights Act.

But in the end, the Board of Trustees had no resolution to announce.

“The board did not take any reportable action in closed session,” College of the Canyons spokesman Eric Harnish said at the close of the session that wrapped up around 4 p.m. Tuesday.

The 11th-hour “special meeting” was called the day before the lawsuit alleging Voting Rights Act violations was scheduled to be heard in court.

“It’s my understanding that both parties will meet in court tomorrow,” Harnish said Tuesday.

The lawsuit — similar to ones filed against the city of Santa Clarita and the Sulphur Springs School District — alleges the at-large methods of selecting elected policy-makers — whereby voters can cast ballots for every seat up for election in a given year — violates the California Voting Rights Act by preventing Latino voters from electing candidates of their choice.

All three lawsuits were brought by the same Santa Clarita Valley plaintiffs and filed by the same Malibu law firm.

In a tentative ruling dated May 14, Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu denied a motion for summary judgment in the College of the Canyons case, clearing the way for a trial date of June 4.

Both Santa Clarita and the Sulphur Springs School District have reached agreement in the cases brought against them.

Earlier this year the Sulphur Springs district announced a settlement agreement in the case filed against it.

Sulphur Springs agreed to pay more than $144,000 in plaintiffs’ attorney fees and costs, and to switch to a by-trustee-area election system, meaning the school district will be broken into separate sub-districts, and voters will cast ballots only for representatives of their districts.

The city also announced a settlement agreement earlier this year, saying it would change the date of Santa Clarita City Council elections from April to November of even-numbered years and pursue the option of cumulative voting, a system whereby voters could cast as many votes as there are seats up for election in a given year, including multiple votes for the same candidate.

Kevin Shenkman, an attorney with the Malibu-based firm that filed the lawsuits, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
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