Q and A: City Attorney Brian Doyle on the Voting Rights Lawsuit Against Santa Clara

By Robert Haugh

City Attorney Brian Doyle answered our questions about the California Voting Rights Act Lawsuit against Santa Clara. Last August, Judge Thomas Kuhnle ruled that Santa Clara had racially polarized voting. That’s why we had two district elections in November. And for the first time, most of the city of Santa Clara did not get to vote for council candidates.

Generally, why did the City appeal the CVRA lawsuit?

The City believes that the trial court reached the wrong decision. The City does not believe that Santa Clara voters engaged in racially polarized voting.

Specifically, what are the arguments that you presented for the appeal?

The City has not yet filed its appellate brief containing its arguments on appeal.

I understand that the City has challenged the amount that Robert Rubin’s firm has claimed as expenses? What’s the amount? And what’s the argument against it?

The amount of fees and costs granted by the court was somewhat in excess of $3 million. If the City prevails on its appeal, the City will not pay any of plaintiffs’ fees and costs. It should be noted that the City’s fees and costs in trying the case were less than one quarter of the $4 million that plaintiffs originally sought.

When is the appeal likely to be heard?

The City is hoping that its appeal will be heard within the next year or two.

If you win on appeal, what’s next? Will Santa Clara return to at-large elections?

Under recently-approved Measure N, the City will conduct a public process to determine how the Charter should be amended to vote by district. If the voters approve a Charter amendment to go to districts, then there will not be at-large elections for Councilmembers. Measure N confirmed that Santa Clarans want to continue to elect the Mayor at large.

If you win on appeal, will it be the first time a city has won?

There are very few trial court judgments or appellate decisions involving the California Voting Rights Act. We are not aware of another City having an appellate decision in their favor.

One Councilmember, Patty Mahan, was actively helping sue the City. Is she now restricted from discussing legal strategy for the appeal?

I am prohibited from discussing what may have occurred in a Closed Session of the City Council.


  1. […] California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) “imposes liability on cities that elect their representatives through an at-large system and have racially polarized voting.” Generous attorneys’ fee provisions have encouraged assembly-line filing of complaints [Federalist Society forum with J. Michael Connolly; Mark Plummer, LAist; Carolyn Schuk, Silicon Valley Voice (Sunnyvale); Robert Haugh, Santa Clara News Online] […]

  2. In today’s SJ Merc, in the local section it says that Redwood City is also switching to district elections. Why? Because they were threatened with legal action. It seems to me a waste of time and money to fight the ruling the judge handed down to Santa Clara. Let’s use the money instead to fill potholes, finance the Parade of Champions……the list can go on and on.

  3. This is unnecessary costs and the city attorney knows that. City leadership knows that. This isn’t about the charter or Santa Claran’s rights, It is about preserving select power for the council. When you have districts, it’s really hard to get puppets to run. This case is purely political and with the success of Raj Chahal winning in 2018 we know it works, Districts work. yet the city continues to waste taxpayers money appealing a case that spelled doom for Santa Clara from the get go. No city has ever won a CVRA lawsuit, yet for some reason Santa Clara thinks its special. Have we not learned from Palmdale, or Modesto ? History repeats itself but it’s up to us to learn from it and not repeat it. Here in Santa Clara we seem to be in some kind of timeloop where we are always behind the curve in the bay area.
    Without this lawsuit we can afford more, we can afford a Parade of Champions. When I read this, and see our city attorney is named the good of the week, I cringe at the fact that our city can’t run a stadium successfully and we can’t accept the fact that we were polarizing votes not just racially, but by class, and by a ‘clique’.
    What’s happening is they know their days are numbered here and they need to find a way that can benefit themselves and keep power down the road. We had 8 years!!!! 8 years to comply and we failed. Justice was served last July when the judge ruled in favor of the people and the electorate. When the city continues to fight this you wonder if it is kinda racist or classist.
    Between stadium issues, this lawsuit, and the many new lawsuits the city of Santa Clara is getting no wonder why people are deciding to pack up and move away. Too much drama and political theatre. The city needs leadership, not individuals or a body that is racking up fees, fines, and using their power to sharpen vendettas. Santa Claran’s lose and have been losing since many were baited by Measure J in 2010, by many that run this city today.
    Not to mention all the money we wasted on Measure N right when the judged ruled essentially what we voted on. No common sense whatsoever. Why, because it is not their own money, spending other peoples money is easy, a Santa Clara tradition since 2010.
    I can’t wait to see the diverse field of candidates in 2020, and can’t wait to see the changing face of this council for the better.

    • Look at the other comments Becker wrote. No way he penned this.

    • Great commentery. Really steller. You must agree with whats there since all you can do is inuslt Becker. Bravo!

  4. Brian Doyle might be a good attorney – i noitce you didn’t say honest – but he’s why the pnesion system is so bad. He retired from Sna Jose and his pensin is $110,895 per year. As the good attorny for Santa Clara, he’s $165,427. And another $42355 in benefits for a take home salary of $207,782. As a Maths major, that equals $318,677 per year. PLus, when he retires from Santa Clara, he’ll get another pensin. This is called double-dipping – get a fat pensin someewhere else, get a another PERS job adn make oodels more money and get another pensin on top of that.

    How much money does a good attorney need? He’s

    • Wrong
      or Santa Clara, he’s $165,427. And another $42355 in benefits for a take home salary of $207,782

      Benefits arent “take home salary” benefits are paid to delta dental, Kaiser and the like its not take home pay

    • Tyler… purchase a clue. Don’t let some other person tell you what you post.

      NO city employee pays for all their insurance. Given the number of years in San Jose he has FREE LIFETIME insurance coverage. Just to make sure you saw that, he have FREE LIFETIME INSURANCE. Delta Dental cost at most $200 per month. So the $42,355 in benefits doesn’t pay for that. He can defer his FREE LIFETIIME medical coverage from San Jose and let the city of Santa CLara pay for his insurance but he still has FREE insurance.

  5. I believe Brian Doyle is a key player on the team that is going to right the ship that is Santa Clara. Good counsel, good staff, bright future.

  6. I read the linked bit – that said Patti Mahan was helpoiing sue the city. You must’ve linked the wrong article. I can’t find anywhare in there that says Patty did anything like that. Sitting ont he same side as the plantiffs isn’t suing the city. Maybe she sat there to sit next to her sister? Maybe she sat there to seem impartile. Seems to be your reporting FakeNews Robert.

  7. It’s good that we have a city attorney who’s not afraid to stand up for the city. I watched the council meeting on Tuesday and Doyle was standing up to the 49ers. So were other city staffers. And the Mayor Gillmor and other Council people too. It’s about time and long overdue.

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