Citizens Seek Sanctions Against City for Attempting to Punish them for Bringing Voting-Rights Case

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Editor’s Note: We wanted to put this on your radar – an interesting case out of Albuquerque that related to voting rights. Below is information from The Campaign Legal Center.

Earlier this month, four Albuquerque voters, plaintiffs in Baca v. Berry, a voting rights case currently before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, filed a motion for sanctions against the city and its attorneys for pursuing a frivolous cross-appeal in bad faith.  This cross-appeal had sought to force the voters to pay the city’s attorneys’ fees.  The voters are represented before the Tenth Circuit by the Campaign Legal Center.

The voters originally brought the case to challenge the City of Albuquerque’s redistricting plan for city council districts.  After the case was brought, Albuquerque voters passed a referendum that altered the way the city council is elected.  In light of this change in the law, the case was dismissed.

The city then sought to recover its attorneys’ fees from the voters and their attorneys.

The district court granted the city’s motion to sanction the voters’ attorneys for prolonging the case, ordering them to pay $48,000, but refused to award fees against the individual voters.  After the attorneys appealed this sanctions order to the Tenth Circuit, where they are represented by the law firm Jenner and Block, the city filed a cross-appeal seeking fees against the individual voters.  But the city presented essentially no legal argument in support of this cross-appeal and dropped the cross appeal at oral argument before the Tenth Circuit on May 6, 2015.

Rather than a good faith effort to recover its attorneys’ fees, the city’s cross-appeal was likely a bad faith attempt to intimidate civil rights plaintiffs and coerce their former attorneys into dropping their appeal.

“The City of Albuquerque and its Mayor acted shamelessly to intimidate and punish minority voters with gratuitous sanctions for attempting to safeguard their voting rights as residents of the city,” said Joshua Bone, the Legal Center attorney who argued before the Tenth Circuit.  “The city’s conduct was so reprehensible that the Albuquerque City Council passed a resolution condemning the city’s pursuit of attorneys’ fees against its own citizens.  We hope the court will see fit to rule in a manner that will dissuade other elected officials from abusing their office by bullying their own constituents and scaring them away from their recourse to the courts.”

To read the motion filed today seeking sanctions against the city, click here.

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