Rios v. ABC Unified School District

Together with MALDEF, GBDH filed a lawsuit on 4/10/13 against the ABC Unified School District alleging that the district’s at-large method of electing its Board of Trustees violates the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) because racially polarized voting results in vote dilution for the district’s Latino voters.  What this means is that the voting preferences of Latino voters (a large minority of the electorate) are different from those of non-Latino voters (the controlling majority of the electorate) and non-Latino voters do not support candidates and positions favored by Latinos. Under the at-large election system, the result is that non-Latino voters effectively control and decide the outcome of elections for all seats on the board, and Latino voters are unable to elect even some candidates preferred by Latinos.  About 32% of the population in the school district is Latino, with 23% of the district’s voting age population being Latino, yet no Latino has been elected to the board since the mid-1990’s.  The school district serves six cities, Artesia, Cerritos, Hawaiian Gardens, and portions of Lakewood, Long Beach, and Norwalk.  All of the current board members are from only one of those cities, Cerritos.

The lawsuit seeks an order from the court requiring ABC USD to change its election system for its Board of Trustees from at-large to by district, and further demands that the district lines in that new system be drawn in a fair and non-discriminatory way. It also seeks an award of litigation costs and attorney’s fees incurred by plaintiffs and their lawyers in bringing the case.

Our three clients who have brought the case are all Latino registered voters in ABC USD and have long been active in public education issues in ABC USD.  Olga Rios is a school teacher who went to school from K-12 in the ABC USD before going to college and then obtaining a Masters in Education from Harvard.  She currently has two children in the ABC USD system.  Mariana Rios is also a school teacher who went to school in the ABC USD, graduating from Artesia High School.  Thomas Chavez has lived in the ABC USD 53 years and both of his children attended ABC USD schools from kindergarten through high school.
For more information about the case, click on the link to the complaint filed with the Superior Court or read the press release and media materials released on the day the complaint was filed. Lead attorneys on the case for our firm are Morris J. Baller and Laura L. Ho.

On 11/19/13, ABC USD agreed to settle the lawsuit and convert from an at-large to a by-district election system.  The settlement means that ABC USD candidates will be voted upon only by registered voters of the same area in which they reside and will represent.  ABC USD will retain a demographer that will create map options for a single-member-district election method featuring seven trustee areas.  The proposed plans will then be available for review and input by members of the public.  Under the agreement, the new voting map must comply with state and federal election laws and shall, at a minimum, contain at least one Latino-majority Citizen Voting Age Population (“CVAP”) district.

The settlement was a result of efforts began in 2011, when plaintiffs’ attorneys wrote the school district a demand letter outlining the CVRA allegations and attempting to resolve the issue without litigation.  Because ABC USD refused to change its system until after Plaintiffs were forced to file a lawsuit, ABC USD also agreed to pay $140,000 for Plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees and costs.

Case Documents