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Appeals court allows Palmdale to proceed with City Council election

Crime, Law and Justice

A California appellate court has cleared the way for the city of Palmdale to hold its Nov. 5 City Council election, which a trial court had canceled late last month.

Judges in the 2nd District Court of Appeal turned on its head a preliminary injunction, issued Sept. 30 by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Mark V. Mooney, barring the election.

Mooney's injunction said the city was enjoined from holding an at-large election, counting the ballots or certifying the result. If Mooney had meant to prevent the voting, the word "or" should have been "and," said the order signed Tuesday by Presiding Justice Paul J. Turner and Associate Justice Richard M. Mosk.

Associate Justice Sandy R. Kriegler, one of three judges who heard the Palmdale matter, disagreed with his two colleagues' interpretation that the preliminary injunction did not halt the election.

"The text of the written order plainly enjoins all aspects of the election — voting, tabulation, and certification," Kriegler wrote.

Technically, the appeals court rejected Palmdale's request to overturn the lower court's injunction. But the city got what it wanted anyway — permission to hold the election. The ruling left the certification issue in the appellate court's hands.

Palmdale is one of several cities being sued under the California Voting Rights Act. Plaintiffs in the separate cases are seeking to have the cities' at-large election systems overturned, alleging they are harming minority voters' opportunity to elect a representative of their choice.

Various activists suing Palmdale, Whittier and Anaheim are pressing for council members in those cities to be elected by geographic district. Combing through past election results, they offer evidence of polarized voting — different outcomes in minority precincts than in largely white ones.

In July, Mooney ruled that Palmdale's at-large system was discriminatory and said he would provide direction later for remedying the situation. In the meantime, he granted the plaintiffs' request to halt the election.

Palmdale officials, saying their election preparations had been thrown into disarray by Mooney's injunction, hailed this week's appeal court ruling.

"We strongly believe that the citizens of Palmdale have a right to vote for every elected official," City Atty. Matthew Ditzhazy said in a statement defending the existing system. He added that the city also will appeal the trial court's July ruling.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs could not be reached for immediate comment Wednesday. But they said earlier that Palmdale had had plenty of notice that its elections systems was illegal and likely to be overturned.

Palmdale, with a population that is nearly two-thirds minority, has elected only one Latino and no blacks to its council since incorporating in August 1962. But Ditzhazy noted that three of the four candidates vying for two council seats are minorities, ensuring that at least one minority will be elected.

jean.merl@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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