“Voters Rights Law” = “Voting by Race”
                                                            
                                                               By Donna Fleming 

There is nothing more corrosive to our form of government than to “hard wire” the election of lawmakers based entirely on their race/ethnicity. Nothing in the U. S. Constitution guarantees that Americans must vote by race. Yet that is what California Voting Rights Act (“CVRA”) lawsuits are about. That, and litigation fees.
 
A post on Facebook shows a check made payable to attorneys
Shenkman & Hughes for $4.3 million from the City of Palmdale.
The post below it reads "Picture me rolling bi*ches"  

Though I am a resident of San Juan Capistrano, I may no longer vote for the best candidate(s). If I live in District 5, I must cast my vote for a candidate from District 5 whether I believe they are the best qualified or not. As an American and resident of California, I no longer have a say in who runs my city. How can that be constitutional? How did this happen?
 
City Taxpayers Pay Legal Fees - Win or Lose
Our town has been targeted by an attorney who is exploiting a flaw in the legislation to force every city with a minority population to abandon voting at large and convert to voting by district. The CVRA requires mapping and districting to insure that minority populations are represented. The current law allows attorneys like Kevin Shenkman to collect legal fees - whether they win or lose. Shenkman finds a plaintiff who either lives in or moves to a city and claims that his/her voters’ rights are not represented. The plaintiff need not have even voted in that city. That is the case with Tina Auclair who shortly after moving to SJC, filed a lawsuit with co-plaintiff Louie Camacho, the husband her Regency Real Estate partner Anna Dickinson. Public voter records indicate that Auclair had not voted in an SJC election prior to filing the lawsuit. Her attorney stated in the broadcast media that San Juan was racist “at levels rarely seen in the 21st century.” Had Auclair lived here longer, she would have known that we have had two Hispanic mayors within the past 8 years, one of whom served twice as mayor.
 The Law and its Intent
The CVRA was conceived and written largely by Joaquin Avila, a law professor and former President/General Counsel of the Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund. His goal was to “make the electoral process more accessible to Latino/as” according to his bio at Seattle University* where he is currently a visiting professor. But this voting by district may have the effect of separating us by race when we should be working together on issues of town management. Even worse, we are forced to pay attorneys like Shenkman for separating us.

No Checks and Balances for Legal FeesUnfortunately, the law allowed no checks and balances for legal fees. As it is written, all legal fees are paid by the taxpayers in cities and school districts throughout California. As a result, Shenkman is filing suit after suit targeting cities with large minority populations. Some cities have paid upwards of 6 million dollars in legal fees and damages to Shenkman and presumably, his plaintiffs.  

To date Shenkman has collected $13,857,000.00 in legal fees from towns all over California. It is unknown how much plaintiffs like Tina Auclair and Louie Camacho may collect from SJC taxpayers (to see a list of cities and court awarded payments to Shenkman, visit our website at: ccsense.com, under “Community Links”).  
The CVRA lawsuits are reminiscent of the American with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) lawsuits, at least in terms of automatic payouts to attorneys and plaintiffs. In those cases, attorneys would find plaintiffs to sue for such minor issues as a mirror in a public restroom being too high by as little as one inch. The law was so poorly written that businesses were not given an opportunity to fix the fault before being forced to defend it in court. Lawsuits are impossibly expensive for most individuals and small businesses. For this reason, many businesses paid significant amounts of cash to “settle” the lawsuit for slightly less than what it would cost to defend it in court. This has resulted in financial damage to mom-and-pop shops, some of whom have been forced out of business.  

For his part, attorney Shenkman appears to boast about a big taxpayer-funded payoff. After “settling” a case in Palmdale, a photo appeared on his Facebook page of a check payable to him for more than $4.6 million with a comment below it, “See me rolling bi*ches” (see inset box).

Potential Solutions Being Discussed
These lawsuits concern SJC Mayor Pam Patterson, who is an attorney. Patterson serves on the League of California Cities Elections Committee where the member cities have been in lengthy discussions about the CVRA. The law could result in minorities losing seats on the council in the next election, which according to the Chair of the LOCC election committee, is precisely what happened in her city. 

Mayor Patterson has encouraged the League to advocate for amending the law in order to protect the taxpayers from attorneys and plaintiffs who abuse the intent of the law for financial gain, and to insure that all voters are properly represented. At the quarterly meeting held in April, Mayor Patterson urged the League to look into a lawsuit questioning the validity of parts of the Act. According to the mayor, there are three particular problem areas within the act;

1) The number of eligible voters in each district is not taken into consideration when equalizing the population count in each district 

2) There is no structure in place which allows cities sufficient time to gather information and analyze the data so that the best decision can be made for the community

 3) The wording regarding attorneys’ fees allows unscrupulous attorneys to rack up enormous fees - not for the sake of the residents of the city, but for their personal financial gain.

These sound like common sense solutions. When the common good of our town is being undermined, it is the journalists’ task to get the word out.

*http://law.seattleu.edu/faculty/profiles/visiting-and-affiliated/joaquin-avila
Donna Fleming worked as a technical writer before moving to San Juan Capistrano in 1999 with her three children, who graduated from San Juan Capistrano schools. Donna published her first novel in 2013, “Hard Times in Red Grape”, which was selected by a history professor as a class assignment in protest literature. Donna, a longtime community advocate, is currently working on her second novel.   
Do you agree with this law? Do you agree with Mayor Patterson’s recommendations? The CCS wants to hear from you! Email us at: eboard@ccsense.com.





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