Santa Ana Recall Vote to Proceed, Judge Says

Times Staff Writer

A federal judge Monday denied a request by a Latino-rights group to halt the Feb. 4 recall election of Santa Ana Unified School District board member Nativo V. Lopez.

With the date only four weeks away, the ruling effectively assures a showdown at the polls to resolve the nearly yearlong effort to oust Lopez.

Recall backers accuse Lopez, a longtime activist for immigrant and Latino rights, of being a divisive force in the community and prone to race-baiting. Lopez counters that he is protecting the rights of working-class Latinos. He was first elected to the school board in 1996.

The recall organizers circulated petitions early last year to force a special election.

In December, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund sued, saying that the petitions, which were only in English, violated the voting rights of non-English-speaking citizens because they could not understand the documents and thus participate in the process.

The lawsuit, filed against the Orange County registrar of voters and one of the recall organizers, also sought a preliminary injunction to stop the vote while the lawsuit is resolved.

U.S. District Judge Alicemarie H. Stotler in Santa Ana ruled Monday that there was insufficient evidence to stop the election so close to the scheduled date.

She did not, however, rule on the merits of the lawsuit itself, which will proceed.

"Obviously, we are disappointed," said Steve Reyes, an attorney with the group. "The ruling sends a message telling the Spanish-speaking people of Santa Ana that they are not going to be granted the same rights as the English-speaking voters in the recall process."

Lopez declined to comment.

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