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Santa Monica City Councilmember Ordered Back to Deposition in Voting Rights Lawsuit
By Niki Cervantes
October 19, 2017 -- Santa Monica City Councilmember Pam O’Connor has been ordered back to a deposition after she walked out of questioning in a lawsuit alleging the City is violating the California Voting Rights Act by diluting the representation of the city’s Hispanic population.
The court referee in the case, retired judge Louis Cardenas, issued the order on October 11, saying California law “overwhelmingly” requires her to finish the deposition.
In a text message to the Lookout, O’Connor said she left as directed by the City.
“I followed the instructions of the City, who said I should leave,” O’Connor said. “So I left with the City’s attorneys.”
Five other council members have already given depositions in the April 2016 lawsuit, said Kevin Shenkman, the attorney representing the Pico Neighborhood Association and Maria Loya, a resident and Pico activist ("Santa Monica Facing Lawsuit Over At-Large Council Elections," April 13, 2016) .
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Shenkman, who has filed a series of Voting Rights lawsuits in the state which have led to a growing number of municipalities abandoning at-large voting for systems focused on district-by-district voting.
The deposition lasted about 10 minutes when counsel for O’Connor said they were leaving because they felt it was “inappropriate” to the case for O’Connor to be queried about the issue of Elizabeth Riel.
“Bye, guys,” she said as attorneys representing the City said they would seek an order preventing her from being deposed and, with O’Connor, left, according to Shenkman.
Riel was hired as the City's communications director and fired before she could start in 2014 following a string of increasingly adament, behind-the-scenes emails from O’Connor to then City Manager Rod Gould ("Santa Monica Council member Fought to Oust City Spokeswoman, Group Contends," August 26, 2015).
O’Connor, who regarded Riel as a political foe, denied wrongdoing. The City paid a $710,000 settlement with Riel and the debacle spun into a long saga, culminating in an outside review of possible corruption at City Hall .
Conducted by highly-regarded attorney John C. Hueston, the review did not find O’Connor violated anti-corruption laws in the dispute, only that she was “not mindful” of rules that prohibit the Council from either direct or indirect influence in hiring and firing ("Santa Monica Ethics Review Finds Lapses in Judgment," April 20, 2016 and "Santa Monica Council Member Criticized by Colleagues," April 28, 2016).
Shenkman said the Voting Rights suit is including the Riel controversy to show at-large elections like those in Santa Monica “breed corruption.”
To reach voters citywide, candidates need large campaign war chests, a reality that stops Hispanics -- a less affluent population in the city -- from mounting campaigns, he said.
Candidates in at-large elections “become sellouts,” he said.
A date for O’Connor’s re-appearance for deposition has not yet been set, Shenkman said.
The trial is now set for July 30.
In addition, he said he will ask to recall Council Members Gleam Davis and Terry O’Day in the wake of a California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) investigation that found Santa Monica’s Huntley Hotel improperly concealed contributions during local elections in 2012 and 2014.
Winterer, Davis and O’Day were recipients of the donations, according to the FPPC, which fined the Huntley $310,000 in August ("Huntley Hotel in Santa Monica Facing $310,000 Fine for Concealing Contributions in 2012 and 2014 City Elections," August 8, 2017).
None of the council members was accused by the FPPC of knowing the real sources of the contributions, which came at a time when Huntley was fighting the redevelopment of the Fairmont Miramar Hotel across the street.
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