On Wednesday, the City of Santa Clara filed an appeal of Judge Thomas Kuhnle’s ruling that Santa Clara’s at-large by-seat election system discriminates against minorities.
Other California cities have appealed California Voting Rights Act judgments. None won their appeals. But all increased their legal bills substantially.
In Palmdale, not only did the city incur an estimated $7 million in legal bills, the appeals court judge refused to certify the city’s 2013 council election. Instead, he ordered the city to establish election districts drawn by the court and hold an expensive special election to replace the sitting council.
This move may have been inspired by a federal appeal court’s ruling reinstating a legal challenge to the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) by Don Higginson, the former Mayor of Poway, a San Diego suburb.
Higginson’s case was dismissed by the district court for failing to show, first, a direct connection between Poway’s adoption of by-district City Council elections and voting rights laws — the City had not been sued — and second, how Higginson’s rights had been infringed on by the new system.
This move will add to the hefty bills the City has already incurred —hundreds of thousands in court costs, according to the plaintiffs’ recently filed statement of costs, and millions in its own and the plaintiffs’ legal bills. Santa Clara has paid attorney Steve Churchwell’s firm, Churchwell White, $90,675 since September 2017.
The City’s appeal is unlikely to result in the decision being overturned, but, based on history, it could very well sow confusion in the upcoming Council election.