Some in Santa Clara are saying that the attorneys representing the City in the now-appealed voting rights lawsuit overstepped their authority by filing an appeal a week before the City Council unanimously approved the action on Aug. 21.
That’s not the case, said Santa Clara City Attorney Brian Doyle, because the Council had already indicated its intention to appeal.
“While in the normal course the filing of a notice of appeal would follow a consultation with City Council,” wrote Doyle in an email, “past authorizations by the Council to appeal the trial court’s interim orders indicated that the filing of the formal notice following the entry of judgment would be in accord with Council direction.”
Still, at least one Council Member says that previous actions don’t confer automatic approval for subsequent ones.
“It surprised me when I looked in the court record to find that it had been appealed while the Council was in recess,” said Council Member Patricia Mahan.
When Santa Clara filed its appeal of the court’s remedy order, as distinguished from appealing the judgment, for single-member City Council districts, the Council approved the action at the June 26 meeting and that appeal was filed on June 29 and later abandoned.
“It has always been our practice to instruct our attorney before we take a legal step as important as filing an appeal,” said Mahan. “I would have never thought that my vote to appeal one issue [of the remedy order] was approval to appeal on another. That doesn’t grant permission to appeal the judgment.”
Some city charters such as Oakland’s require the city council’s explicit ratification before filing legal actions
In April County Superior Court Judge Thomas Kuhnle’s ruled that Santa Clara’s former at-large by-seat election system violated the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) and discriminated against minorities. No city, school district or public agency has ever won a CVRA lawsuit, nor has any appeal ever been successful.
Santa Clara’s appeal will be heard in April 2019.