A federal judge ruled against Orange County government lawyers today and allowed a lawsuit to proceed that alleges elected officials diluted Latino voting strength in its latest redistricting effort. “We’re going to trial,” said Juan Cartagena, president and general counsel of LatinoJustice PRLDEF, the civil rights group behind the lawsuit. “They can’t stop us now. They tried, and it didn’t work.” A county spokeswoman said Orange officials do not comment on pending litigation. Instead of a jury, Chief Judge Anne C. Conway will preside over the voting rights trial set for May 12.
The lawsuit alleges that while about a quarter of Orange’s voting-age population is Hispanic, none of the county government’s six districts are drawn as a majority-Latino seat. No Hispanics now sit on the elected board.
Instead, a majority of commissioners, including Mayor Teresa Jacobs, adopted new district borders in the last redistricting effort that lowered the percent of Hispanics in District 3, where Latinos had won seats before. The lawsuit says that Orange leaders “cracked” that Latino population between District 3 and nearby District 4. In response, the county launched several legal challenges to the suit, including attempts to disqualify the plaintiff’s election expert testimony.