“Jackpot: Lawyers earn fees from law they wrote”

By reader acclaim, this report from AP’s Michael Blood in Los Angeles:

Every lawsuit filed or even threatened under a California law aimed at electing more minorities to local offices – and all of the roughly $4.3 million from settlements so far – can be traced to just two people: a pair of attorneys who worked together writing the statute, The Associated Press has found.

The law makes it easier for lawyers to sue and win financial judgments in cases arising from claims that minorities effectively were shut out of local elections, while shielding attorneys from liability if the claims are tossed out.

The law was drafted mainly by Seattle law professor Joaquin Avila, with advice from lawyers including Robert Rubin, legal director for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area. Avila, Rubin’s committee and lawyers working with them have collected or billed local governments about $4.3 million in three cases that settled, and could reap more from two pending lawsuits.

Dozens of other California jurisdictions have been threatened with suits over at-large (undistricted) elections, and officials in many communities say they heard no complaints from voters until lawyers came around.

“It’s a money grab,” charged John Stafford, superintendent of the Madera Unified School District that was slapped with a $1.2 million attorneys’ bill even though it never contested a lawsuit. … A judge is reviewing the bill submitted to Madera. To pay, Stafford said the district would have to slash money for books and lunches for its mostly Hispanic students, an odd consequence for a law intended to aid Hispanics.

If you’re wondering about Prof. Avila of Seattle U., who agrees to being the law’s principal drafter, his biographical page is here, and it’s replete with elite law school connections. Excerpts:

…Professor Avila has taught courses at the University of California/Berkeley, University of Texas, and UCLA schools of law. Professor Avila has received numerous awards in recognition of his work in the voting rights area. He received a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 1996 for his voting rights work. In the same year, he received the Vanguard Public Foundation’s Social Justice Sabbatical for his work in providing political access to minority communities. In 2001 he received the State Bar of California’s Loren Miller Legal Services Award for providing outstanding legal services to disadvantaged and underserved communities. …


  • Anthony Stracci … had a fleet of freight-hauling trucks that made him a fortune primarily because his trucks could travel with a heavy load and not be stopped by highway weight inspectors. These trucks helped ruin the highway and then his road-building firm, with lucrative state contracts, repaired the damage wrought. It was the kind of operation that would warm any man’s heart, business of itself creating more business.

    — Mario Puzo.

  • Thanks for the pointer! I’ve been looking for a way to shut down my local school board (they keep trying to get “parcel taxes” voted in), and this may be my wedge.

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