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Cerritos College Trustees Settles Election Lawsuit

By Brian Hews

 

The Cerritos College Board of Trustees have settled a lawsuit filed under the California Voting Rights Act challenging the at-large electoral system previously used to elect the College’s Board of Trustees, and seeking payment of attorneys’ fees.

In a statement issued Thursday morning by college officials, the Board had already announced its intention to change its electoral system voluntarily before the action was filed, so the only issue at the time of the settlement was whether plaintiffs were entitled to payment of their attorneys’ fees by the College.

Voters will be elected new college trustees this coming November via individual district elections, as to past elections where members were voted “at-large.”

On Wednesday night, the College decided to settle the plaintiff’s attorneys’ fees for $55,000 rather than engage in “possibly prolonged and costly litigation.”

The Plaintiffs’ attorneys had asked for $140,000 in fees and costs.

“While the Board believes that Plaintiffs are not entitled to any fees and costs at all, the cost of fighting a fee motion would likely have exceeded the $55,000 that the College agreed to pay,” spokeswoman Aya Abelon said in a media statement.

Plaintiffs had been informed of the posted agenda item to commence the process to change before the lawsuit was filed, but chose to file suit anyway. Attorneys’ fees cannot be awarded under the California Voting Rights Act if no court case is filed.

The Board adopted final trustee area boundaries for the new by-trustee area electoral system in December 2011.

Under the new system, candidates must live in the trustee area they seek to represent, and only the voters in each trustee area will elect that area’s representative. The new electoral system will be used for the first time at the November 2012 elections for the Board.

“This legal action was totally unnecessary,” said Dr. Linda Lacy, President/Superintendent.

Bob Arthur, president of the Board of Trustees said, “The Board had received the Plaintiffs’ demand and was moving with appropriate diligence in considering and acting upon it. The College believes that Plaintiffs’ decision to file suit when they did was driven entirely by the desire to get attorneys’ fees. While the College believes Plaintiffs were not entitled to fees and costs under such circumstances, at a time when we need every dollar we have to support educational programs at the College, the Board decided it was cheaper to settle than to fight the claim for fees in court.”

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