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LOPEZ v. MONTEREY CTY.

December 20, 1994

VICKY M. LOPEZ, CRESCENCIO PADILLA, WILLIAM A. MELENDEZ, JESSE G. SANCHEZ, and DAVID SERENA, Plaintiffs,
v.
MONTEREY COUNTY, CALIFORNIA, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: RONALD M. WHYTE

 I. INTRODUCTION

 This is a case in which the plaintiffs challenged the implementation of six Monterey County ordinances on the ground that they were not precleared as required by the Voting Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1973c. The ordinances consolidated two municipal and seven justice court districts into a single municipal court district with the judges being elected at large from the entire county. The court previously determined that the ordinances were subject to preclearance and that preclearance had not been obtained. The County then sought preclearance but discontinued its effort stipulating that it could not establish that the consolidation ordinances did not have the effect of denying the right to vote to Latinos as a result of the retrogressive effect that consolidation had on Latino voting strength. Pursuant to this court's order which included an injunction prohibiting an election pending adoption and preclearance of an election plan, *fn1" the County next attempted to secure an amendment to the California Constitution regarding the configuration of districts, so it could implement an election plan that complied with the Voting Rights Act and did not violate any provision of California law. The County was unsuccessful. The question now facing the court is what remedy, under the circumstances, is appropriate.

 II. SUMMARY OF CURRENT ISSUE BEFORE COURT AND DECISION THEREON

 Plaintiffs and Monterey County urge the court to allow elections to take place under a plan that would involve maintaining the current single, county-wide district but with election areas. This plan would eliminate linkage between the judges' jurisdictional and electoral bases and would split the City of Salinas into two areas for election purposes. However, it would allow the County to continue its current administrative scheme for the county-wide operation of the municipal courts. As an alternative, plaintiffs and the County ask that the court authorize the County to implement a plan which would include more than one district and would split the City of Salinas. *fn2" This plan would require substantial administrative changes in the operation of the courts. The State of California and Municipal Court Judge Fields, both of whom have intervened, object to the proposals made as unnecessarily intrusive on state interests.

 III. BACKGROUND

 Prior to 1968, Monterey County had two municipal and seven justice court districts. By ordinances enacted by the County between 1968 and 1983, those districts were consolidated so as to provide for one municipal court district with judges elected at large from the entire county. The consolidation ordinances were subject to review under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and, on September 6, 1991, plaintiffs herein filed this Section 5 enforcement action seeking declaratory and injunctive relief requiring the County to seek preclearance of the ordinances before enforcing them further. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2284, the case was assigned to this three-judge court. On March 31, 1993, this court found that the ordinances did, in fact, require preclearance, that such preclearance had not been obtained, and that the ordinances could not be enforced without preclearance. In response to the court's order, the County, on August 10, 1993, filed a declaratory judgment action in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia to obtain after-the-fact preclearance of the ordinances. County of Monterey v. United States of America No. 93-1639 (D.D.C. filed Aug. 10, 1993). That action was subsequently dismissed upon a stipulation that "the Board of Supervisors is unable to establish that the Municipal Court Judicial Court Consolidation Ordinances adopted by the County between 1968 and 1983 did not have the effect of denying the right to vote to Latinos in Monterey County due to the retrogressive effect several of these ordinances had on Latino voting strength in Monterey County." Monterey County, Cal., Resolution 94-107 (March 15, 1994).

 Monterey County and plaintiffs then agreed to the implementation of an "Election Area Plan" for the election of municipal court judges and requested that this court order the County to adopt the system. The Election Area Plan consisted of seven election areas which were specific geographic areas in which only the residents could vote. The areas were to be used solely for election purposes and there would remain only one county-wide municipal court district for all other purposes. The parties acknowledged that the plan might conflict with Article VI, Section 16(b) of the California Constitution, since it removed the linkage between a judge's electoral and jurisdictional bases. They asked the court to authorize the County to adopt the plan and the County stated that it would then seek preclearance. The State of California asked to intervene and objected to the issuance of an order authorizing the plan. The court, by order dated December 22, 1993, allowed the State to intervene and declined without prejudice to approve the proposed Election Area Plan because it was not satisfied that a plan necessarily had to conflict with the California Constitution in order to comply with the Voting Rights Act. Judge Michael S. Fields, a municipal court judge, was also allowed to intervene in his personal capacity.

 On January 13, 1994 the County submitted a new stipulation and proposed order in response to the court's order of December 22, 1993. The new proposed plan, entitled "Municipal Court Division Plan," called for four divisions. The divisions, like the areas in the previously proposed Election Area Plan, were specific geographic areas in which only the residents could vote. The divisions were to be used solely for election purposes and not for assignment of cases, court locations, or any other purpose. Plaintiffs and the County suggested that the Division Plan did not violate the state constitution, but requested the court to approve it even if it felt otherwise. The State and Judge Fields objected to acceptance of the Division Plan on the basis, among others, that it violated Article VI, Section 16(b) of the California Constitution, which requires that judges be elected in their counties or districts. In its order dated February 28, 1994 the court again stated that it was not satisfied that an election plan had to conflict with the California Constitution in order to meet the requirements of the Voting Rights Act and implicitly held that the Division Plan in fact did so conflict. The court further ordered that the County submit for preclearance an election plan that complied with the Voting Rights Act and all applicable provisions of the California Constitution and state law, or show cause why it could not do so.

 On March 31, 1994, in a hearing to show cause, the County explained why it could not submit the requested plan for preclearance and referred to Board of Supervisors' Resolution 94-107, which made certain findings supporting the Board's conclusion that "the Board of Supervisors is unable to devise or prepare any plan for the election of municipal court judges in Monterey County that does not conflict with at least one state law and still comply with the Voting Rights Act." On June 1, 1994 the court issued its order enjoining Monterey County from holding elections for municipal court judges pending adoption and preclearance of a plan for their election. The County was ordered to take the necessary steps to obtain changes in existing state law and county ordinances to effectuate such a plan. The parties were also ordered to appear on November 3, 1994 to report on their progress.

 Following the court's order of June 1, 1994, the County made a good faith effort to secure passage of an amendment to the California Constitution regarding the configuration of municipal court districts in Monterey County. The efforts were unsuccessful for reasons that appear unrelated to any controversy regarding the proposed amendment. Plaintiffs and Monterey County now urge the court to allow elections to take place under the Municipal Court Division Plan which they had proposed to the court on January 13, 1994. As an alternative, they ask that the court authorize the County to implement a plan which would include districts that split cities.

 IV. ANALYSIS

 
The final step for the three-judge court is to determine "what remedy is appropriate." Section 5 contemplates injunctive relief, which is by its nature equitable. Moreover, the Supreme Court has indicated that the three-judge court has some limited discretion in fashioning a remedy by directing that the court must fashion an "appropriate" remedy. See e.g., Perkins v. Matthews, 400 U.S. 379, 91 ...

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