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Santa Clara Voting Rights Lawsuit Moves Into The Courtroom

The City of Santa Clara’s lawsuit over election methods has moved into Santa Clara County Superior Court.

At this early stage of this case, all attorneys for the case, representing both the plaintiffs and Defendant parties, must appear at a case management conference, which was held on July 28.

The “First Joint Complex Case Management Conference Statement,” provided a summary of the case, status of proceedings and legal questions posed by the case.

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This case management conference was a lawyers’ meeting with the presiding Judge Thomas Kuhnle.

Steven Churchwell, representing the City, spoke first, saying that a “major legal issue” is “whether the plaintiffs complied with the mandatory notice and waiting provisions of AB 350 prior to filing the present lawsuit.” AB 350 became law Jan. 1 and allows a city time to adopt district elections before a California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) lawsuit can be filed against it. “Plaintiffs were required to, but failed, to serve an AB 350 notice on the Defendants after December 31, 2016, and then wait until expiry of the safe harbor periods, prior to filing the present CVRA lawsuit,” Churchwell told the judge. “Accordingly, the complaint is subject to a general demurrer for not stating the facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action.”

Attorney Robert Rubin then spoke on behalf of the plaintiff, noting that the central legal questions are, “whether the City’s election system is characterized by racially polarized voting …whether the City’s violation of the CVRA entitles plaintiff to injunctive or declaratory relief, and whether plaintiff is the prevailing party and is entitled to a reasonable attorney’s fee.

“[The] plaintiff does not believe AB 350 is applicable and if the court determines otherwise, [the] plaintiff can establish that he has satisfied the statutory requirement,” Rubin continued.

Judge Kuhnle, at one point in the proceedings, viewed his computer screen for several minutes, and shortly after, commented that, “I will do my best to get through this stuff,” and directed that the “Defendant’s discovery will focus primarily on expert analysis and opinions regarding whether statistically-significant City Council races within the Defendant’s boundaries were characterized by racially-polarized voting.”

The total time of this conference between lead attorneys and Kuhnle was slightly more than half an hour. With nothing resolved, the judge continued the hearing to an unspecified date in August and it seems likely the case will go to trial. The case number is 17CV308056, and information–including documents–can be found at cmportal.scscourt.org/Portal.

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