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.