Settlement Reached in College District CVRA Case

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| Source: R. Rex Parris Law Firm

SANTA CLARITA, Claif., June 13, 2014 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- The Santa Clarita Community College District and local voters Jim Soliz and Rosemarie Sanchez-Fraser have reached a mutually agreeable settlement to conclude the California Voting Rights Act-related (CVRA) litigation brought by Soliz and Sanchez-Fraser.

The parties worked diligently for over six days to reach an agreement that avoids further litigation costs to both parties, addresses the concerns of the Plaintiffs, and implements creative and practical outreach and educational opportunities to improve voter turnout and participation among voters, including ethnic minorities, in District board elections. While the District maintains it did not violate the CVRA in its election practices, it found common ground with Plaintiffs in its mission to foster leadership and educational opportunities for the diverse members of the District's community. The District volunteered to implement a number of activities, including hosting informational sessions for individuals interested in running for a seat on its board.

"This is a fair settlement that addresses the concerns of Mr. Soliz and Ms. Sanchez-Fraser, and promotes greater participation in Santa Clarita Community College District Board of Trustees elections," Board President Michele Jenkins said. 

"We are pleased that the Santa Clarita Community College District chose to resolve this matter in a way that brings the community together and allows minority voters to gain a voice in the governance of their community college. The Board should be commended for their decision to work toward this resolution," Plaintiff's attorney R. Rex Parris said. 

As part of the settlement, the college District agreed to:

  • Implement cumulative voting, instead of the numbered seat system currently in place. 
  • Take the necessary steps to move board elections to November of even-numbered years with the aim of increasing voter turnout.
  • Pay for board candidates' Spanish-language ballot statements when they choose to pay to include an English-language statement in the ballot pamphlet.
  • Conduct voter registration drives on campus and take steps to facilitate vote-by-mail balloting.
  • Host prospective candidate information forums where those interested in running for a seat on the board can learn more about the election process and the role of board members.
  • Propose the County allow it to offer polling places at both of its campuses with the intent that their centralized locations and large meeting and parking areas would make it more convenient for voters to cast ballots.
  • Recommend that the Board implement district-based elections following the next census if a majority Latino district can be drawn.

In addition, the District agreed to pay the plaintiffs' attorney fees and costs of $850,000. Plaintiffs' counsel agreed to substantially reduce the fees they would have requested from the Court if they prevailed at trial in recognition of the costs the District will incur in implementing the settlement terms, including its initiatives to increase voter and candidate participation. 

The settlement terms were approved by a unanimous vote of the District's Board of Trustees at a special meeting on June 11. The agreement will be reduced to a stipulated judgment to be filed in court with Judge Rolf Treu, who will maintain jurisdiction to monitor implementation of the settlement terms.

Dante Hickles (661) 949-2595 R. Rex Parris Law Firm