A recent Associated Press article reveals that every lawsuit filed or threatened under a specific California law can trace back to two lawyers who worked together in the writing of that statute. The statute is in regards to electing more minorities to office. So far, there have been about $4.3 million in settlements made under this law.
Under this law, lawyers are able to sue and win judgments easier in cases from claims that minorities were shut out of local elections. In addition, the lawsuit shields attorneys from any type of liability if the claims are tossed out of court.
Seattle law professor Joaquin Avila drafted the law. Robert Rubin, a legal director for the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights offered advice for the drafting. Both, along with other attorneys working alongside these two, have been able to bill local governments more than $4.3 million in three cases that have settled. There are two additional lawsuits pending. More so, dozens of additional cities and school boards received warning that they too could be sued under the California Voting Rights Act of 2002. Each of these cases has been initiated by Rubin’s committee or by Avila.
Although it may seem unjust, there is nothing illegal occurring when an attorney profits from a law they helped to author and state lawmakers approved. What is unique in this situation is that after seven years, related legal efforts continue to be extremely narrow in focus. Avila testified in 2002 that he expected other attorneys would take on cases due to these favorable incentives placed into the law.
According to Avila and Rubin, their roles should not overshadow the importance of these cases, as they work to end injustice at the polls. The number of minority officeholders was on the rise prior to the law being in place, and these two claim the lawyers are using the statute to shake down local governments.
Under the law, state courts may create smaller election districts that favor minority candidates. This was necessary, they claim, because the more commonly used “at large” elections allowed candidates to run across the entire district. Avila says this method leads to discrimination since the majority group will win out.
According to several communities in California, there are no complaints about voter discrimination until these attorneys stepped forward. Critics say the law is flawed. They believe that even when there is no discrimination, cash strapped communities are nearly forced to settle the lawsuit.
Many believe that the law and the settlements do nothing to improve the discrimination. Avila, who charges $725 an hour for services, would not disclose his earnings from the lawsuit. Rubin earns $700 an hour. In some school districts, the cost of such settlements is resulting in the inability of schools to provide textbooks to students.