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Attorney General Eric Holder asked to step into Los Angeles redistricting case

Credit: Cover photo by Glenn A. Primm

In a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, civil rights attorney Leo J. Terrell is asking the attorney general to become “an intervening party” to a lawsuit filed against the city of Los Angeles regarding the issue of voting rights violations involving the city’s 2011-2012 redistricting process.

Copies of the letter were handed out at a press conference Terrell held at noon Wednesday on the South Lawn of City Hall.

The suit—Stanley Haveriland, et. Al. v. City of Los Angeles, et. al—was initially filed in March in the U.S. District Court in California’s Central District.

Terrell said he was asking the attorney general to get involved in the case because, “in L.A. we have minorities disenfranchising minorities.”

“We’re asking the court to get involved in redrawing the lines citywide. All we’re simply stating is that race should not be used as a factor in drawing lines. I’m representing residents of the 8th, 9th and 10th districts who believe they have been disenfranchised. Basically, I’m representing people of African American descent.”

He noted that a group in the Korean community were represented in a separate suit alleging that race was used as a factor in cutting up their community. The two suits were reportedly combined in March, according to L.A. Weekly.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. (23391)

Terrell’s suit specifically points the finger at Mayor Eric Garcetti and City Council President Herb Wesson.

“After reviewing the redistricting process, it is my firm belief that charges should be filed against Mayor Garcetti, Council President Wesson and other officials who nefariously influenced the drawing of boundary lines.”

According to the letter, Terrell claims he is in possession of a videotape of “Wesson admitting to an audience that he ‘was able to protect the most important asset that we as Black people have, and that’s to make sure that a minimum of two of the council people will be Black for the next 30 years.’”

“In L.A., the use of race is impermissible as a matter of law,” said Terrell. “You cannot use race as a basis for determining public law.”

In the L.A. Weekly article, Terrell charged “that Wesson was merely looking out for his own political career during the redistricting process, and didn’t care one whit about voters in South Los Angeles and Koreatown.

“He diluted the African American voting block in the 8th and 9th districts to build up an African American voting block for himself in his own district,” charged Terrell.

“I find what Herb Wesson did offensive—using race to ensure a Black district council seat,” said Terrell.

“We have [also] uncovered an email from the staff in which he said ‘We don’t want too many Mexicans in the 10th District.’” Wesson is the councilman for the 10th District.

Those comments allegedly appear in the text of a conversation between Bernard Parks Jr., the 8th District councilman’s son, and Deron Williams, a representative for Wesson, which Terrell sent to Our Weekly Wednesday afternoon. It is titled “Documented Coversations between CD10 and CD8 re: Redistricting” and it reads:

“After more time had passed, Deron finally called me on February 8, 2012 at 6:09 p.m. I again mentioned the counter proposal offered by Bai and he told me that quote ‘There were too many Mexicans’ in that area. I informed him that CD8 would not have any part of drawing district lines based solely on race. He said something about the need for CD10 to remain a ‘Black seat’. I also informed him that, based on numbers, CD10 has never been a ‘Black seat’. I also informed him that the proposal gave CD10 more population than it actually needed, which CD8 was not required to do.

“Williams then, had to get off the phone and promised to call me back, but he never did. I have run into him a few time since, asking when we can get together. He assures me that we will. But I have my doubts.”

However, in this conversation the comment on “too many Mexicans” is not attributed to Wesson, but a representative.

Leo Terrell (23390)

Terrell’s letter to Holder continues, “Further, there are email and text messages from another official promoting the protection of ‘African American incumbents’ and the divestment of ‘diverse populated areas.’”

Terrell said he found the language insulting, offensive and racist.

He also accused Garcetti of “playing musical chairs with Herb Wesson.”

On Jan. 2., in a motion removing himself from the office of City Council president, Garcetti also moved that the Council elect Wesson as president. Normally, the position would have gone to the president pro tempore, but seeing the writing on the wall, Councilwoman Jan Perry, who held the president tempore position, had resigned earlier. At that time, she expressed disgust at what she considered a backroom deal between Garcetti and Wesson.

Terrell says Garcetti and Wesson have an obligation to explain, though his complaint against the mayor was not made clear.

The redistricting was done under the tenure of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and at that time it was alleged that he and Wesson had worked together to dispossess the 8th and 9th districts of much of their economic viability.

Ninth District Councilwoman Jan Perry complained last November that there may have been some sleight of hand with the redistricting maps even before the Redistricting Commission had begun its work. The implication that was Wesson may have been involved in some early redrawing, though he denied that, saying it was “absolutely untrue.”

Under the latest version of the redistricting maps in March, Parks’ 8th district loss Baldwin Hills, the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, Marlton Square and USC. Perry’s 9th district lost its economic engine, the downtown area, including L.A. Live, but picked up more areas of poverty. At that time, Perry said her district was left without a middle class.

Parks alleged then that the redrawn maps of his and Perry’s districts were attempts to turn those districts into Latino districts, pitting Latinos against Blacks.

Asked for a comment on Terrell’s allegations, Wesson’s assistant chief deputy, Edward R. Johnson, wrote in an email: “ . . . we would very much like to respond. However, this matter is currently being litigated, and as such we’ve been advised by our legal team to refrain from responding at this time.”

Similarly, Garcetti’s spokesman, Yusef Robb, said the mayor would have no comment. “. . . just referring calls to the city attorney’s office, which is litigating the case,” he said in an email.

Parks’ could not be reached for comment, and his spokesperson reportedly would not be available until next week.

Terrell said his suit was based on eight or nine residents who are upset with the city of Los Angeles.

A March article by City News Service, said “council members Jan Perry and Bernard Parks opposed the council map, alleging that changes had been made to district boundaries without explanation or approval by the council. Chief Legislative Analyst Gerry Miller said no changes were made to the map approved by the council in March.

“Parks and Perry, upset by how the council carved up their districts—Perry lost of much of downtown and Parks lost the University of Southern California—threatened earlier this year to sue in order to block the new boundaries from taking effect.

“A coalition of Korean American groups—the Wilshire Center Koreatown Neighborhood Council, Korean American Bar Association and Korean American Democratic Coalition—were also unhappy with the City Council district boundaries and also vowed to sue.

“The groups wanted Koreatown to be moved into a district with Thai Town and historic Filipinotown. Instead, the areas were moved into City Council President Herb Wesson’s district ….

“Deputy City Attorney Harit Trivedi told the council that the map was legally defensible. Though no lawsuits have been filed, (at that time) the council voted 14-0 to hire the law firm of Remcho, Johansen & Purcell to represent the city….

“Chief Assistant City Attorney Pete Echeverria told the council that outside counsel was necessary because of the “specialized and esoteric” nature of redistricting law. A lawsuit challenging the city’s once-a-decade redistricting process has not been filed in more than 20 years, Echeverria said.

“Opponents of the new council district boundaries accuse Wesson of secretly orchestrating an effort to turn his mid-city district into a majority-Black voting district, by influencing the 21-member citizens redistricting commission. The federal Voting Rights Act requires a study to justify race-motivated redistricting, a study opponents contend was never done.

City Council President Herb Wesson. (23392)

Wesson has denied trying to influence the process.

“To suggest that one person, me, could influence a 21-member commission and a 15-member council, in my view, is kind of insulting to these … independent thinkers,” Wesson said in March.

Councilman Parks’ opposition to the redistricting plan was well known from the beginning. In fact, the councilman took his protest on the road, making the rounds to a number of African American churches in his district to protest the devastation that the proposal would wreak on the districts 8 and 9.

As of July 1, Perry is no longer a council member, having been “termed out” after her third term in office. Her district seat was won by former state Senator Curren Price, who supported Wesson and the commission’s redistricting plan.

Perry now works for Mayor Eric Garcetti as interim head of the new Economic Development Department.