Attorneys for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund have spent most of this week making the case that the County of Kern broke federal law when it drew boundaries for county supervisorial districts in 2011.
The trail of the MALDEF lawsuit against Kern began in U.S. District Court in Fresno on Tuesday and witnesses for the plaintiff have been taking the stand since then, among them Dolores Huerta and Allan Krauter, the retired county administrator who drew the maps.
MALDEF attorneys expect to try to further prove their point next week before Kern County witnesses get a turn on the stand.
The basic premise of the lawsuit against the county rises out of the fact that, in 2011, leaders of the Latino community petitioned supervisors to create a second Latino-majority supervisorial district in northern Kern County.
But supervisors, none of whom were Latino and all of whom were Republicans, rejected that plea.
Creating two Latino districts would have forced the county to lump eastern Kern County into a single supervisorial district – something opposed by eastern Kern and the two supervisors who represented those districts.
Denise Hulett, the lead attorney for MALDEF, laid out the problem with that in her opening statement on Tuesday.
Latinos have been historically discriminated against in Kern County, she said.
While Latinos represent half of the population in Kern County they have only one seat on the Kern County Board of supervisors.
“Plaintiffs will demonstrate that the 2011 districting plan dilutes the voting strength of Latino voters by depriving them of a second district in which they could constitute a majority of the eligible voters and from which they could elect a candidate of their choice,” Hulett wrote in a copy of her statement provided to The Californian.
Instead of uniting Latino communities of interest into a single district, supervisors instead listened to the largely Anglo population of eastern Kern County, she argues.
Despite the fact eastern Kern doesn’t have enough population to fill even a single supervisorial district, they were given two seats, chopping up Latino population centers and distributing them between District 4 and District 1.
The result: two supervisorial districts in which Latinos are a substantial minority.
This week Hulett called witnesses to drive home that argument.
Julia Gomez, staff attorney at MALDEF and part of the trial team, recapped the week’s testimony on Friday.
Demographer David Ely shared maps with the court that showed how two Latino majority districts could be developed, she said.
Dolores Huerta, iconic labor leader and activist, testified on Wednesday about the common experiences and features that link Latino communities linked in Ely’s maps – a critical part of the claim that those “communities of interest” were illegally broken up by supervisors.
The two plaintiffs in the case, Dorothy Velazquez and Gary Rodriguez, testified about their loss of political power and reinforced Huerta’s comments about the connections between Latino communities, Gomez said.
Sam Ramirez, a supervisorial candidate in 2012, talked about his loss to current Supervisor Mick Gleason of Ridgecrest and how impossible it was for a Latino to compete in a district that spread across most of the northern boundary of Kern County.
Gomez said political analyst Morgan Kousser testified about how districts made it impossible for Latinos to choose a representative of their choice, based on his analysis of 22 different non-partisan races.
MALDEF attorneys also called Allan Krauter, the legislative analyst with the Kern County Administrative Office who drew the various maps supervisors chose from to create their districts in 2011.
“He was able to explain the 2011 process,” Gomez said. “He talked about support for the east side district.”
Krauter also told the court, she said, that he was missing the most important piece of information needed to create good districts: Latino citizenship voting age population data.
That’s the number that would have shown how district boundaries would influence Latinos' ability to have a chance to choose a candidate of their choice in elections.
Attorneys for the County of Kern did not return calls seeking comment for this story.
The MALDEF trial picks up again on Monday with a half-day in court, Gomez said.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs expect, she said, to complete their case on Monday or Tuesday.
After that, she said, it will be up to attorneys for the county to counter the arguments being made.