Lawsuit Claims City Elections are “Racist”

                                                                     By Jim Reardon

 Do you consider yourself racist? At least two of your neighbors who filed a lawsuit* against the city apparently do. In their lawsuit, plaintiffs Tina Auclair and Louie Camacho claim the city’s “at-large” election method denies representation to the city’s Latino community. They seek to break the city into districts that they claim will be more representative of the Latino community.
Plaintiff Louie Camacho,
 pictured with Anna Dickinson
Plaintiff Tina Auclair
Plaintiff’s attorney Kevin Shenkman claims that, “The city’s political culture is infected with anti-Latino racism to a degree rarely seen in the 21st Century. “ His lawsuit claims that while 40% of San Juan Capistrano’s population is Latino, the Latino voter registration level is at only 16%. Without facts, Shenkman argues this is racist; the suit offers no direct evidence of the alleged racism. In fact, it fails to acknowledge that several candidates elected to council seats in the recent past and who went on to become Mayors, were Latino. One of them, Londres Uso, was an immigrant from Mexico. Another, Joe Soto, was elected to multiple terms and twice served as our Mayor.
The percentages quoted in Shenkman’s lawsuit are based on the U.S. Census which did not determine citizenship status nor whether individuals are eligible and/or registered to vote. Residents here illegally and all children are included in the racial population figure.
 Another issue ignored by the lawsuit is the fact that a council position, which requires council members to devote what often amounts to full-time hours, pays only around $350 per month. Residents who are in a low-income bracket who already work full-time jobs may be unable to devote the necessary hours. As a result, council positions often attract either retired residents, or those who have the financial resources to support themselves while they serve on council. In such instances, the inability to serve has to do with economics, not racism.

The motivation of those filing the lawsuit must be examined. Shenkman’s law firm will be an obvious winner, claiming attorney fees under a private attorney general statute, here and against several other cities simultaneously. The attorneys collect a taxpayer-funded “settlement” fee whether they go to court or not. In fact, public records indicate that Shenkman’s firm may have collected over $13 million in settlement and court ordered compensation from previous lawsuits of this type (see “Shenkman & Hughes Fees” under “Community Links” at: It is unknown what, if any, compensation Auclair and Camacho hope to collect from San Juan taxpayers.

Lawsuits filed against cities require that plaintiffs reside in the city being sued. What is their motivation? In this instance, the plaintiffs are outspoken supporters of the “old guard” council majority who were unseated in the November 2014 election. One plaintiff in particular, Tina Auclair, self-professed co-founder of “Capistrano Forward”, is a frequent critic of the current council majority and commissioners appointed by them. Another supporter of the lawsuit has written of her belief that this lawsuit will force a re-vote of all five council positions. However, the lawsuit cannot force a “re-vote” on duly elected council members from 2014; it can only result in future elections being conducted by-district.

Auclair, who resides east of the freeway, is a recent arrival in San Juan Capistrano, having turned up around the time of the “Urban Village” controversy surrounding the downtown hotel. According to the Registrar of Voters, Auclair registered to vote in San Juan in November 2015. Being a new arrival, she might be excused for not deeply understanding the culturally diverse history of San Juan Capistrano. However, her team of Capistrano Forward followers, including the “old guard”, certainly are familiar with this history. Perhaps the political opportunity to up-end the elected city council compelled them to set aside any pride in our town and instead viciously attack and malign its reputation and subject all of us to baseless ridicule by Shenkman on radio stations and other news outlets that reach the entire region.

 Sadly, this lawsuit and voting by district won’t address racism, real or perceived. By breaking the city into geographic “boroughs” or districts of equal population, the voting influence of Latinos not living in one of the city’s culturally identifiable neighborhoods will actually be diminished. Furthermore, a successful candidate from one of these neighborhoods will be elected by a very small number of votes compared to winners in other areas because of the low voter registration levels relative to census count. Ironically, if Auclair or Camacho decided to run for council, it is likely e that neither of them would be representing a Latino district, as neither live in a culturally identifiable neighborhood.  

In response to the lawsuit, the council will hire a demographer to draw up new districts, essentially acceding to the lawsuit and the well-understood social axiom that denial of racism is the same thing as proving a negative. In other words, don’t even try.

Jim Reardon is a resident and elected member of the Capistrano Unified School Board where by-district elections were imposed as a result of a 2010 ballot initiative.
 * To view a copy of the lawsuit, click on “Auclair/Camacho ‘Southwest Voter Education Project’ Lawsuit” under Community Links.


yllasd said...

For once I disagree with the Council. I do believe that City Council members should be elected from districts and not at large as is currently done. I believe it is time for the current City Council to change the law and create districts within the City of San Juan Capistrano. I also believe that the Latino districts in our community are poorly or not at all represented in the City Council members.

Sally Davis

Editorial Board said...

Hi Sally-

I am unsure whether you read the entire article, but it clearly stated that the council is working on establishing districts, indicating that they agree.

The council is not in charge of changing state law; it was done by the state legislature. Unfortunately, as is also pointed out in the article, re-districting will likely not help those whom it is supposed to help.


Anonymous said...

How much are the plaintiffs Auclair and Camacho making? Any idea? It's sickening that this Shenkmen law firm is making tens of millions of dollars off the backs of unsuspecting taxpayers in small towns like ours.

The greed of the law firm is bad enough, but I am even more disgusted with the plaintiffs, who ought to know better. What a bunch of BS!

Anonymous said...

What is going on,I think this is just Horrible.

Anonymous said...

Where is the "community links" page?
I enjoy the articles and support, however with all due respect,this website looks like it was built and is updated by a middle school child. Missing pages, empty events page, no graphics, no internal or external linking etc...
I could go on and on, but I won't.
Please step up the game on this website, or hire one of the many great web marketing companies from our town. Again, the articles are great, but the overall design, structure, and functionality of this website reflect poorly on the reputation of
Thank you, and please keep the great articles coming!

Unknown said...

This is a frivolous law suit filed by Tina Auclair and Louis Comancho. Auclair moved to SJC in 2015. The law firm has filed the same law suit in six different cities in California. All small towns with a large Hispanic population. This is not about voters rights. This is about lawyers and money. No one has been denied the right to vote. We have had an Hispanic council member seated for the last 20 years. These people were voted in because we thought they would do a good job taking care of our small town. For this the council members make about 350.00 a month. It is more of a volunteer position that requires more than some full time jobs. Can't you people see what this is about? This is about a law firm targeting small towns and taking away huge legal fees. No ones rights have been infringed on. This is just about money in the form of billable hours. Our town is in financial trouble and here comes another lawsuit.

Unknown said...

Anonymous.... I agree with your comments. It would be great to get the community more involved using this website. It is easier to click LIKE on comments by residents than to leave a whole new comment. CCS is the last vestige of honest journalism in SJC. YES this greedy law firm is using the system to rack up legal fees based on a law drafted by Avila, a law professor, back in 2002. This opened the door for greedy lawyers to swoop in and file expensive lawsuits against small towns in California. So suddenly the plaintiffs are showing up and filing a claim. "Oh you are doing things all wrong." This plaintiff, Auclair, came out of no where. Moved here in 2015. And suddenly she is suing our city. "Racially polarized Voting". Once she gets her money she will move to the next city on her list. Attorney Kevin Shenkman has represented plaintiffs from Anaheim, Bellflower, Compton, Escondido, Highland, Lancaster, Palmdale, Santa Barbara, Santa Clarita, Santa Clarita, San Mateo. So this attorney is actively seeking plaintiffs to file lawsuits against local governments and collecting millions of dollars. If California did not have enough problems with drought, over development, now we have specious law suits running through the courts. This lawyer should be challenged and sanctioned. I object to my tax dollars being used for these ridiculous law suits.

Anonymous said...

Why is there so much bitterness and venom in all of your articles and these posts? Why do you have a problem with the city being in compliance with the California Voters Rights Act? There is an undeniable large population of latinos in San Juan and instead of supporting and encouraging our neighbors, you continue to spew hate and divide our community. Why do you print false and opinion only comments when stating that Community Common Sense is "committed to reporting facts not offered in other publications"? Hate is what drives racism. Anger is what makes a person blind to it. We live in a beautiful place, in a time where life is much easier than before - why not try compassion, understanding and love for a change?

Unknown said...

We are a small town. We do not need districts with such a low population. Furthermore, I am really angry that my tax dollars are being gifted off to some greedy people and their lawyer to force mandatory redistricting on such a small town. I want to be able to vote for the best person. Not the best person in my small area. In large towns it makes more sense, like Anaheim or Santa Ana. Not San Juan Capistrano. This is about MONEY. So that is my venom. A lawyer who found a hole in the law and a greedy client/s who can grab our tax dollars. I am really angry. This is the not the fault of CCS. Thank God they are here to print the truth once a month. We really need a bigger sheriff department but we cannot afford more help. Our city is broke. Now comes Shenkman and his nasty plaintiffs to force this VRL on our small town and grab our tax payers money. Stealing from your neighbors fuels anger. Filing lawsuits against your neighbors brings separation that was not here before. Do not blame CCS for racism. This is a lovely town and we love having a hand in local matters. This law separates us.

Anonymous said...

With 2 attorneys on the council and the City attorney representing the City, if they thought for one minute a judge would not rule against San Juan Capistrano and require them to change to district elections they would have fought the lawsuit. I am sure you are not suggesting Mayor Patterson or Councilman Reeve do not have a grasp of the law? It seems you may not have read the part in the California Voting Rights Act that defines the criteria of a city that is required to comply but I am betting they did. Your tax dollars would not have been spent on this if the council would have taken this seriously and acted responsibly upon receipt of their first notice last year but it seems this council majority doesn't do anything without being sued. Looking forward to your name on the ballot when your district comes up!

Unknown said...

Annonymous...the Voters Rights Law was passed in 2002. (Act of 2001 (CVRA) expands on the federal Voting Rights Act of ... a vote of 22 to 13, and passed on the assembly floor with a vote of 47 to 25. The bill was signed into law by Governor Gray Davis on July 9, 2002) This was long before Patterson, Ferguson were voted into the office of city council of SJC. The previous city council was run by Allevato and he could have addressed the law during his long time grasp of our city voting structure. If you had lived in SJC for any length of time you would be aware of the "good ole boys" way of running our town. The land deals and the reason for the Allevato recall. Since you are unaware of all the wheelin and dealin going on I assume you are new to San Juan Capistrano. Allevato could have addressed redistricting but he did not. As a town we stood up to him with pick it signs and lots of hours invested to take our city back. Now we have an unscrupulous lawyer using this law with the loop hole for "legal fees" to gouge us and pay off a willing resident who claims their voters rights have been neglected. HOGWASH. There are 100's of old laws on the books that are not enforced. "It is illegal to pile horse manure higher than 6 feet on any street corner." Regarding a name on the ballot. More likely that is your purpose in signing Anonymous. If you really loved San Juan Capistrano as many of us do, you would not file a law suit against the city to demand financial compensation.

Anonymous said...

My roots in San Juan go back over 35 years! Your attacks on someone you know nothing about are typical of the reasons this town has feuding factions for years. I am fully aware of past council "good old boys" and current council "good ol girls" and am just saying there is no difference. You go ahead and take a side, just make sure your side isn't stirring the pot, I chose to seek real information and not made up rhetoric that just continues the hate. And the reason I am using "Anonymous" is because I HAVE lived here long enough to know what happens to people that speak out. I used to read Common Sense just for fun, now it goes to the garbage where it belongs.

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