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Judge orders settlement conference on MALDEF ruling

FRESNO — U.S. District Court Judge Dale Drozd ordered MALDEF and attorneys for the county of Kern to hold a settlement conference on March 28 to decide when the lines of the Kern County Board of Supervisors should be redrawn.

But it was clear that he is leaning toward ordering Kern County to redraw the political maps that govern who can run for Kern County supervisor this year. That could throw two active supervisorial campaigns into turmoil.

Drozd obviously wants the county and MALDEF to find a solution of their own.

But if the two sides can't find common ground, he said, then he will order the resolution he believes is correct.

“If I get word on March 28 that there is no agreement I’m issuing an order on March 28,” he said.

Drozd ruled on Feb. 23 that the boundaries created by Supervisors in 2011 were drawn illegally and violated the U.S. Voting Rights Act, handing a substantial victory to the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which brought the case on behalf of several Kern County voters.

The case against the County of Kern is already making political waves. On Monday, the board of the Kern High School District ordered their own boundaries to be redrawn in order to avoid a similar lawsuit that was being prepared by the Dolores Huerta Foundation.

And it seems sweeping political change will be coming this year.

Drozd stated Tuesday that did not seem right for him to find that Kern County's supervisorial district boundaries were illegal and then postpone a resolution until 2020, as Kern County's lawyers had suggested.

“I’ve got to tell you it would be a dissatisfying remedy to have there be no solution for over two years,” he said.

Drozd said in court that ordering the county to redraw lines this year for a Kern County Board of Supervisors election in November is a reasonable resolution of the case. That is the outcome requested by MALDEF.

He said the county could postpone the June primary election for Supervisorial districts two and three — which are currently held by Supervisors Mike Maggaard and Zack Scrivner.

Then, in November, the election could be resolved on a single ballot, Drozd said.

Kern County Counsel Mark Nations said it was very clear that Drozd was telegraphing support for MALDEF’s proposed resolution to the case.

“I take it very seriously,” Nations said. “I think he was telegraphing it to us.”

He said he believes the judge did rethink that positon a bit after hearing from Kern County’s contract lawyers.

Christopher Skinnell and Marguerite Leoni, the attorneys representing the county of Kern, argued that the judge would, in effect, be cancelling the June election which is already well under way.

Denise Hulett, the attorney for MALDEF, said the court has broad powers to order resolutions which it has found that federal law has been violated and can easily order the supervisors election to be moved back to November.

Both the attorneys for MALDEF and those representing the County of Kern promised the judge they would meet with federal Magistrate Judge Jennifer Thurston in Bakersfield and make every effort to resolve the case without further appeal or litigation.

Hulett said it was clear that the judge understood MALDEF’s concerns.

“He very much signaled in his various comments that he doesn’t feel we can proceed with another illegal election,” she said.

A settlement could also offer up a quicker resolution to the situation as compared to a potential series of lenghty appeals, Hulett said.

Supervisors have been reluctant to draw maps that give Latinos their politcial due, said United Farm Workers co-founder Dolores Huerta, who attended the hearing.

“I really do believe there is going to be a resolution. I do believe the judge is trying to bring the county into the process,” she said.

James Burger can be reached at 661‑395-7415. Follow him on Twitter: @KernQuirks.

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