The U.S. Court of Appeals has rejected the village’s controversial attempt to renew a nearly 5-year-old legal battle over its trustee election system. A three-judge panel ruled Thursday that the village has no right to appeal a 2008 ruling that deemed the former at-large system unfair to Hispanics.
In 2009, Port Chester agreed to usher in a new and unusual method called cumulative voting, under a consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice. This year, after winning office under the new system, the newly elected trustees switched course, opting to appeal. Justice Department attorneys maintained the village had given up that right. In a two-sentence order, the appeals panel agreed.
“We obviously disagree with this ruling and are disappointed with this result,” said attorney Michael Carvin, who represented Port Chester. “We will be consulting with the Board of Trustees concerning this decision.”
The Justice Department’s 2006 lawsuit sought to replace at-large trustee seats with single-member districts. U.S. District Judge Stephen C. Robinson ruled that the villagewide vote had kept Hispanics, estimated to make up at least 22 percent of voting-age citizens, from electing their preferred candidates to the board. He ordered a change but allowed the village to adopt cumulative voting rather than districts.
Under the new method, each voter had six votes to cast, one for each trustee seat. He or she could put all six votes toward one candidate or distribute them among several. In March 2010, two incumbents and four others, including Luis Marino, the first Hispanic to serve on the board, were elected.
The board voted 4-2 in February to appeal, despite a public outcry that the effort was a waste of taxpayer money on top of $1.2 million already spent on the case. The board agreed to hire Carvin of the Jones Day law firm at fees of up to $775 an hour, with a $225,000 maximum. Carvin is a high-profile appellate lawyer and the brother of Rye Town Supervisor Joseph Carvin.
The village has paid more than $35,000 to Jones Day, but that does not reflect the full amount to be billed, village Treasurer Leonie Douglas said.