Warning that court intervention would force postponement of next June's election for two seats on the Board of Supervisors, Los Angeles County asked a federal judge Monday to throw out a lawsuit alleging that the county's redistricting plan discriminates against Latinos.
In papers filed in U.S. District Court, county attorneys argued that it is too late for the court to act on the suit without delaying the election, when Supervisors Ed Edelman and Pete Schabarum, who represent heavily Latino districts, are up for new four-year terms.
County attorneys said that election workers must begin preparations in September, and the trial is not likely to be concluded until late January.
After the June election, county attorneys argue, the suit would be moot because the board must redraw their district boundaries in 1991 anyway, after the U.S. Census.
"They have run out of time," Senior Assistant County Counsel Mary Wawro said, referring to the plaintiffs. Wawro said U.S. District Judge David Kenyon could delay the election, but she said she would argue against a postponement because it could force some voters to wait up to eight years to cast ballots in a supervisors election.
"If the court redistricts the county before the 1990 election, a significant number of voters who otherwise would be entitled to vote in 1990 will be shifted to districts whose elections are not scheduled until 1992," said the papers filed by the county. "Because redistricting again will be required in 1991, the lines then may be redrawn in a manner that places some of these voters back in districts" where the next election would be 1994.
Eve of Court Hearing
The county's request came on the eve of the court hearing on the county's appeal of a ruling requiring the supervisors to disclose their private conversations leading up to adoption of the 1981 redistricting plan.
In their 1988 lawsuit, the U.S. Justice Department and two civil rights groups accused the supervisors of drawing their districts in such a way as to preclude the county's 2 million Latinos from electing a Latino to the five-member board. Citing the federal Voting Rights Act, the suit seeks a realignment of the existing districts or expansion of the board to create a Latino majority district.
The legal director of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, one of the plaintiffs in the case, accused the county Monday of trying to delay the trial.
Based on Speculation
"It's based purely on speculation," legal director E. Richard Larson said, referring to the county's claim that the case cannot be decided before the June election. "As such, it is a frivolous motion.
"We think there is plenty of time to try the case," Larson added. He said Kenyon could extend the Dec. 31 deadline for completing preparations for the election and, if necessary, could delay the election and order a special election upon completion of the trial.
The lawsuit remains relevant, even if the June, 1990, election is held, Larson said. "We would have some legal precedent behind us in drawing of new lines in 1991, and hopefully we would deter the county from doing what they did in 1981," he said in an interview.
But in their court papers, county attorneys blamed the plaintiffs for delays. "Plaintiffs idled through four rounds of elections under the 1981 plan. Then, seven years after that plan was adopted, they initiated (the) suit."