Santa Monicans vote during an election. (File photo)

Democracy on TrialThe contentious trial over race and politics in Santa Monica took a brief twist and turn Tuesday when one of a dozen lawyers on the case broached the subject of neckties. The question came from Lancaster Mayor Rex Parris, an attorney for the plaintiff, who made headlines around the world this summer for suggesting they should disappear from his City Hall.

Judge Yvette Palazuelos was hardly knotted up over the issue. Under her black robes, she wore a collared shirt without a tie, its top button open in front of her neck. She told Parris she wouldn’t mind if he chose not to wear one.

“You should see the things we see in criminal court,” she told the assortment of blue, grey and black suits litigating the voting rights case. “Lots of interesting clothes. We ignored it.”

A few hours later, Parris opined on the stifling nature of the necktie to the Daily Press in the halls of Los Angeles Superior Court. He looked down at his yellow tie speckled with blue polka dots and said it would be the last one he wears for the trial.

To him, the issues of public health and personal liberty are intertwined.

“What I really want to do is just boost awareness that there’s a lot of things we should do to boost our well-being and governments should get out of the way and so should employers,” Parris said.

Parris came up with the idea to remove tie requirements for government employees while reading about a German study that found they reduce blood flow to the head by as much as 7.5 percent. He argues ties are rarely washed and thus crawling with bacteria, playfully pointing out a stain on his co-council’s spotted grey necktie while they waited for the court to reopen after lunch.

With Lancaster’s City Hall on recess amid the blistering summer heat, Parris plans to implement the new policy in September. Until then, he’s tied up in court, where he’s part of a team of lawyers representing the Pico Neighborhood Association (PNA) in a California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) trial. The PNA is suing the City of Santa Monica over its at-large election system, alleging it discriminates against minority voters.

Parris is known for personal injury cases and huge settlements. In 2009, a jury awarded his clients one of the largest damages awards in Los Angeles County history: $370 million. The settlement involved a defamation case against Georges Marciano, the founder of Guess Inc. and a former gubernatorial candidate. On the website for his law firm, Parris’ biography promises arguments “using the latest science in persuasion skills.” In his photo, he wears a blue necktie with brown paisleys.

The Lancaster mayor notoriously became involved in CVRA cases when it came up in the rival city of Palmdale. Parris didn’t bring the case but became involved in the litigation that ultimately forced that city to change to district elections. Parris deposed Palmdale’s mayor, revealing information that later led to a separate corruption scandal.

When asked about his own campaign for mayor in Lancaster, Parris told the Daily Press “it was simple. I’m rich.”

Parris said he didn’t think the absence of a tie would change the judge’s perception of him in court. While the CVRA lawsuit is a bench trial, he said ditching the tie could be a benefit, especially when arguing in front of a hypothetical jury.

“I’m confident when I’m arguing to a jury I’d be better off without one because I’m trying to build a connection,” Parris said.

While he wishes to get rid of the requirement, Parris clarified anyone who chooses to wear a tie anyway would be welcome.

“Make no mistake, if you want to hang yourself with your tie, it’s okay with me. As long as it doesn’t hurt anybody else,” Parris said.

Earlier in the day, Judge Palazuelos offered a simple remedy to any of the male attorneys who felt stifled by his silk accessory.

“You could loosen it,” she said.

Senior reporter for the Santa Monica Daily Press