Editor's Note: This 2008 story was mistakenly republished to modbee.com on Thursday evening, May 13, 2010. It is not a current story.
Modesto is paying $3 million to settle a voting rights lawsuit the city fought all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, one of the attorneys who won the case said Thursday.
Modesto is paying the money over three installments. It set aside at least $500,000 because it anticipated owing the attorneys’ fees.
The money is going to three law firms that argued the case on behalf of three Latino residents who claimed Modesto’s at-large City Council elections disenfranchised minority voters.
They carried the case under the California Voting Rights Act, which allows groups of people to contest at-large election systems if they can demonstrate that racially polarized voting patterns keep minorities from winning office.
The decisive ruling in the case took place in December 2006, when the 5th District Court of Appeal in Fresno sided with the Latino residents and upheld the voting law.
Modesto appealed that ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, which rejected Modesto’s case in October.
The settlement money will go to:
- The Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area
- The Heller Ehrman law firm in Menlo Park
- And Joaquin Avila, a voting rights expert and co-counsel in the case.
Robert Rubin, legal director for the lawyers committee, said the court decisions and the settlement would show other jurisdictions
"It certainly sends a message to other cities and school boards that the at-large election system is susceptible to challenge, and that it will be very costly to defend these illegal systems," Rubin said.
Modesto City Attorney Susana Alcala Wood said it made sense to settle the case after voters approved a ballot measure in February that set a course for district elections by 2009.
"The voters were pretty decisive in February," Wood said. "They said, 'go for district elections.' We knew this issue belonged in the hands of the voters; that’s what we said all along."
The City Council unanimously approved the settlement in a closed session meeting three weeks ago.