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Judge Rules Supervisors Must Redistrict

TIMES STAFF WRITER

On the eve of the Tuesday’s election, a federal judge today ruled that the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors violated the Voting Rights Act in drawing district boundaries that discriminate against Latinos.

In a decision expected to radically change county government, U.S. District Judge David V. Kenyon said that the supervisors will need to redraw their district lines or reconsider expansion of the board to provide a seat for a Latino. But he scheduled a hearing for Thursday to decide whether Tuesday’s supervisors’ election should be voided, as requested by the U.S. Justice Department.

In a 131-page opinion, Kenyon said, “The Hispanic community has sadly been denied an equal opportunity to participate in the political process.”

“During the 1981 redistricting process,” Kenyon wrote, “the supervisors’ primary objective was to protect their incumbencies and that of their allies. This objective, however, was inescapably linked to the continued fragmentation of the Hispanic population core.”

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The ruling is expected to help the first Latino win election to the powerful five-member board. It also could end a decade of conservative control of the board.

Supervisor Mike Antonovich called the judge’s ruling a “joy ride of judicial activism.” Antonovich said he is certain that the board will appeal the ruling.

Attorneys for the county, which has spent more than $3 million fighting the voting rights lawsuit, have asked Kenyon to allow the winners of Tuesday’s elections to serve until a new redistricting plan is approved.

One of the top contenders in the 1st District race to succeed retiring Supervisor Pete Schabarum is a Latina, Sarah Flores. But civil rights attorneys have argued that even if she wins, it doesn’t resolve the issues that prompted the lawsuit.

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The decision follows a three-month-long trial, which ended April 10, on lawsuits filed in 1988 by the Justice Department and two civil rights groups. The suits accused the supervisors of fragmenting heavily Latino neighborhoods among three districts.

As much as a third of the county’s population is Latino, and there are large black and Asian populations as well, but no member of a minority has ever been elected to the county board.


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