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Attorney: COC working toward settlement in voting rights case

Posted: June 4, 2014 11:20 a.m.
Updated: June 4, 2014 11:20 a.m.
 

LOS ANGELES — The Santa Clarita Community College District is working toward a settlement to a lawsuit brought against the district alleging its election system violates minorities’ voting rights, an attorney told a judge Wednesday in court.

Attorney Margarette Leon, representing College of the Canyons and the district, told Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu that the COC Board of Trustees authorized her to proceed with a settlement during a two-hour closed-door meeting Tuesday.

The settlement process hit a snag, however, when Leon requested the college chancellor be present at the proceedings.

“The chancellor wanted to be here,” she told the judge in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom where a trial in the matter was set to begin Wednesday morning.

Attorney R. Rex Parris, representing the plaintiffs, expressed a desire to get the settlement process started without delay.

“This is probably going to be resolved,” he said. “If they had a meeting and it (a settlement) was authorized, it’s authorized.”

Treu instructed both parties to get the settlement process started, directing them to a courtroom that deals exclusively with lawsuit settlements.

The community college district was one of three Santa Clarita Valley public agencies sued last summer by a Malibu law firm over alleged Voting Rights Act violations. The Lancaster firm of R. Rex Parris, who is also the mayor of Lancaster, was also involved in the suits.

The other two agencies sued — the city of Santa Clarita and Sulphur Springs School District — have announced settlements in their cases.

All three lawsuits allege at-large election systems — whereby voters throughout a municipal agency choose from a pool of common candidates, rather than electing individuals district by district — prevents Latino voters from electing candidates of their choice.

They claim at-large voting constitutes a violation of the 2001 California Voting Rights Act.

Lawsuits alleging Voting Rights Act violations have been brought against school districts and cities throughout the state; at-large elections are a traditional system of selecting elected officials in smaller government agencies.

The city of Palmdale did battle in court over the issue, but a trial-court judge ruled for the plaintiffs. Last week an appellate court rejected Palmdale’s claim that, as a charter city, it was not governed by the California Voting Rights Act.

The 2nd District Court of Appeal also upheld a lower court’s refusal to certify the results of Palmdale’s Nov. 5 at-large election.

jholt@signalscv.com
661-287-5525
On Twitter @jamesarthurholt

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