State high court declines to hear Palmdale voting rights appeal

Palmdale, shown in foreground, suffered another legal setback Wednesday when the state Supreme Court declined to take up its appeal.
(Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)

The California Supreme Court on Wednesday declined to take up the city of Palmdale’s appeals in a voting rights lawsuit it lost last year.

The high court’s decision is the latest in a series of legal setbacks the city has faced since a Superior Court judge last year ruled Palmdale was in violation of the California Voting Rights Act and ordered it to hold a new election with council members chosen by geographic district.

The trial judge said the current city council, elected at large, could not hold office after July 9.


The city appealed parts of the ruling but the appellate court upheld the trial judge, prompting Palmdale officials to turn to the state’s high court.

The city has continued to conduct business through its at-large council and attorneys for the plaintiffs are considering asking the trial court to hold the city in contempt. Nearly 200 city voters also have petitioned the governor to appoint a panel to oversee a new election.

During the trial, the plaintiffs successfully held that the city’s at-large voting system had kept minorities from electing representatives of their choice due to racially polarized voting. Dividing the city into districts would improve their chances of electing at least some, they argued.

City elected officials, nearly all of whom are white, argued there were other reasons for the paucity of minority representatives in a city with a large proportion of Latinos and blacks.

Plaintiffs attorney Kevin I. Shenkman said Wednesday he was “very pleased the California Supreme Court has confirmed what the court of appeal and the trial court have said.”

“We hope this serves as a message to the city of Palmdale to stop wasting its taxpayers’ money fighting the voting rights of its citizens,” he said.

City officials said Wednesday they have appealed the trial court’s ruling in its entirety and the proposal for geographic district elections the court ordered as a remedy. They said their attorneys expect to submit briefs by the end of the month.

“While we are disappointed that the Supreme Court is not taking up this case, we are moving forward in the Court of Appeals to work toward protecting our citizens’ constitutional right to determine the manner and method of electing their city leaders,” said Asst. City Atty. Noel Duran.

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