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Plaintiffs Win Voting Rights Suit Against the City of Santa Monica


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November 13, 2018 -- In a historic decision that could radically change the makeup of the City Council, a Superior Court judge has ruled in favor of the Latino plaintiffs in a voting rights lawsuit against the City.

In her tentative decision -- sent by mail on Friday and received by plaintiffs and the defense on Tuesday -- Superior Court Judge Yvette M. Palazuelos found the City had violated the plaintiffs' rights under the California Voting Rights Act.

She also ruled in favor of the plaintiffs' claim that in 1946 and 1992 the City deliberately discriminated against minority voters by refusing to implement district elections.

Palazuelos set a hearing to propose an appropriate remedy for December 7.

The two-page ruling paves the way for replacing Santa Monica's at-large voting system with districts that are expected to reduce the role of money and the power wielded by citywide organizations.

"In my heart I always knew that justice would prevail," said Maria Loya, who along with the Pico Neighborhood Association (PNA) is a plaintiff in the case. "It's good to know that Judge Palazuelos looked beyond the City Council's deceptive tactics.

"This judgment is a victory for democracy, fairness and accountability in our local government."

Kevin Shenkman, the lead attorney representing the plaintiffs, said the City should refrain for continuing to fight the lawsuit.

"We are very pleased with the court's ruling validating what we have known for years," Shenkman said. "We hope the City takes the next few weeks to reflect on the judge's wisdom.

The City, he said, should "stop wasting the tax dollars of residents in pursuit of its misguided fight against the rights of voting minorities in California."

Plaintiffs attorney Milton Grimes, who represented Rodney King in the landmark case against the Los Angeles Police Department, said he was "ecstatic" with the ruling.

He praised the judge's "wisdom and vision to see the truth" given the voluminous paperwork submitted by the City.

"She saw the forest and found the tree," Grimes said. "I was afraid that in all the mucky muck it would be lost.

"The system found a way to grant a voice to the disenfranchised," he said. "It tells the small person that they, too, can have a voice."

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