A judge has ruled against the City of Santa Monica in the California Voting Rights Act lawsuit to determine the future of elections in the city.

Judge Yvette M. Palazuelos issued her tentative decision last week and attorneys received the document in Tuesday’s mail.

“On the first and second causes of action, in favor of Plaintiffs Pico Neighborhood Association and Maria Loya and against Defendant City of Santa Monica,” said the ruling.

Both sides have been ordered back to court on Dec. 7 for a post-trial hearing to determine the appropriate/preferred remedy for violating the CVRA.

Attorney Rex Parris was part of the Plaintiff’s team and said while there are alternatives, moving to districts is the only real possibility at this point.

“She’s giving them the opportunity to argue the remedy,” he said. “But they didn’t put any evidence in.”

He said his team has a preferred district map but others might be available provided the Pico Neighborhood receives appropriate representation. However, he said the lack of evidence submitted by the defense team makes it likely the Plaintiff’s map will be the basis for establishing new districts.

“I suspect she’s going to take what the plaintiff submitted because the defense decided not to submit anything,” he said.

According to Parris, the outcome was basically a forgone conclusion given the nature of the CVRA.

“I don’t think there’s any surprise that that is going to be the decision because that’s what the law is,” he said. “I think that was known by the city, the city’s lawyers and the city’s experts.

Parris said the entire trial was unnecessary.

“So really it really was just a waste of taxpayers money,” he said.

Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., from Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP was one of the attorneys representing the city. He said they planned to appeal.

“We received today the court’s tentative ruling,” he said. “We are disappointed that it contains no reasoning in support of the court’s decision, which we believe is based on an unjustified adoption of the plaintiffs’ misguided and unsupported view of the law.  In accordance with the court’s order, we will file briefing on the issue of remedies.  Once the court’s ruling is final, we plan to appeal, which will allow the California Court of Appeal to address the significant legal issues of first impression posed by this case.”

While the Plaintiffs have submitted a draft of a district map, Parris said he’d have rather had a community discussion with input from various stakeholders on what the districts should look like. He said the entire point of the CVRA is to preserve democracy and it’s not ideal to have one side dictating the outcome but there was no option given the City’s decision to fight the case.

“Our preferred way of doing this is to allow the community to have input and come up with a district map that takes everyone’s concerns into consideration,” he said. “But when a city is totally recalcitrant in terms of working on everything, there isn’t a lot of choice left.”

Plaintiff Maria Loya praised the verdict.

“In my heart I always knew that justice would prevail. It’s good to know that Judge Palazuelos looked beyond the City Council’s deceptive tactics. This judgement is a victory for democracy, fairness and accountability in our local government,” she said.

Parris said the future of the city’s election system would be up to the judge, including the possibility of special elections in the very near future.

“I don’t know that she’s going to invalidate (the 2018 election),” he said. “I think she may require a new election, a special election. I don’t know that she’s going to make them wait two years. Another interesting point is it depends on when the election is certified. If it’s certified before Dec. 7, I don’t think she’s going to say no you can’t be on the council.”

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Matthew Hall

Matthew Hall has a Masters Degree in International Journalism from City University in London and has been Editor-in-Chief of SMDP since 2014. Prior to working at SMDP he managed a chain of weekly papers...

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  1. All the incumbents who voted to waste $6 M on that case–already, and now they are saying more to appeal–must be voted out, or the cronyism and corruption will continue as to 4/5 of the Council.

  2. By these headlines one would think SM City Council and Govt. were the victims.. headline fixed:
    “PoC and working class people win lawsuit against city of Santa Monica gaining better voting representation and delivering a major blow to systemic racism. “

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