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Appeals Court Grants Temporary Stay Allowing Council to Serve After August 15

Bob Kronovetrealty
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By Jorge Casuso

March 19, 2019 -- A California Appeals Court ruled Monday that Santa Monica's seven City Council members can continue serving while the City's appeal of a voting rights lawsuit is heard.

The temporary order stays a ruling by Superior Court Judge Yvette M. Palazuelos that prohibits Council members not elected under a district system from serving after August 15.

Palazuelos' judgment also called for a special district election on July 2, but the order was automatically stayed when the City appealed the ruling ("Judge Orders Special District Elections for Council in Final Ruling," February 16, 2019).

In Monday's order, the Second District Court of Appeals temporarily stayed the lower court's ruling "pending further order of the court."

The three judge panel gave the plaintiffs -- Maria Loya and the Pico Neighborhood Association -- until Thursday to file an opposition.

The City must then file a reply by Monday.

The Appeals Court ruling came after the City asked the court on March 8 to stay or clarify Palazuelos' order denying the City's request for a stay ("Judge Palazuelos Denies City's Request for A Stay in Voting Rights Order," March 6, 2019).

The City had asked the lower court judge to either confirm that her ruling prohibiting the Council from serving past August 15 was mandatory, which would have resulted in an automatic stay, or to issue a stay if it was "deemed prohibitory in nature."

In seeking a stay from the Appeals Court, the City argued that by refusing to stay her decision, Palazuelos was coercing the City into holding a district election under a ruling the City believes will be overturned on appeal.

Without a stay, lead defense attorney Theodore J. Boutrous, Jr. wrote, "the City would effectively be ruderless and unequipped to govern itself" as of August 15

In her final ruling last month, Palazuelos found Santa Monica's at-large election system violated the California Voters Rights Act (CVRA).

She also found the City had deliberately discriminated against minority voters by refusing to implement district elections ("Judge Orders Special District Elections for Council in Final Ruling," February 15, 2019).

During the six-week trial, the City argued that the plaintiffs failed to present evidence that the Santa Monica's at-large election system has led to polarized voting or diluted Latino votes.

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