The plaintiffs and lawyers suing Santa Monica over its election system have been fined $21,612 for failing to produce emails during the trial. The judgement has no bearing on the outcome of the case but the court order containing the ruling does suggest a decision has been made.

Plaintiffs Maria Loya and the Pico Neighborhood Association sued the City of Santa Monica alleging the at large voting system is racist. If they win the case, the city could move to district based elections or adopt another voting system depending on the Judge’s order.

Lawyers for the City claimed the Plaintiffs and their attorneys failed to produce requested documents and did not conduct a good faith search to determine if the emails existed. In their complaint, City Hall had asked for monetary sanctions and a ruling that the court consider the unproduced documents as evidence in support of the City. The judge rejected that notion saying it would have gone too far in giving the defendant an advantage at trial but she did approve a fine.

“The Court does find Plaintiffs and their counsel engaged in a misuse of the discovery process such that monetary sanctions are warranted,” she wrote. “Plaintiffs provide no coherent explanation for their decision to not search for emails in response to Defendant’s discovery requests that defined the terms ‘document’ and ‘communications’ in a broad enough manner to include and expressly cover emails.”

Judge Yvette Palazuelos issued the fine on Nov. 8 and in the letter sent to both sides, she lists all actions taken in court that day including a description of a possible decision. The first notation is “The Court issues its Tentative Decision/Order re: the Court Trial.”

No-one had an actual copy of the tentative decision last week and when asked for a copy, the Court said the document was unavailable for physical inspection because it had been taken to be scanned for upload into the digital document system. However, no document was available online by close of business Friday, the system was unavailable for the weekend and no new documents are available as of Monday morning.

A second order suggests a copy has been mailed to both sides but Monday is a Federal holiday with no mail delivery.

Both sides have been ordered to appear on Dec. 7 to possibly discuss the tentative ruling. A judge can alter a tentative ruling based on subsequent arguments and while a wholesale reversal between the tentative and final stage is rare, it is possible.

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 Comment

  1. Judge Yvette Palazuelos should be fined $21,612 for providing no coherent explanation why the tentative ruling was unavailable for physical inspection except that it was being scanned.

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