A Century City law firm with experience in representing Democrats in reapportionment cases was named Friday to help defend the City of Los Angeles in a federal lawsuit accusing city officials of discriminating against Latinos in drawing council district boundaries.
The City Council, after meeting for three hours behind closed doors, chose the firm of Irell & Manella to assist the city attorney's office in preparing a defense against the Justice Department suit.
The federal complaint, filed in Los Angeles last November, accuses city officials of "fracturing" the growing political influence of Latinos through a "history of official discrimination" and of diluting their voting strength when the council drew new district lines in 1982.
Those political boundaries violated the 1965 Voting Rights Act, according to the civil complaint, as well as the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment and the voting rights provisions of the 15th Amendment.
In hiring private lawyers, Council President Pat Russell said the council was following the recommendation of the city attorney's office, which must respond to the suit next Friday in U.S. District Court. Despite reports that the city is leaning toward settling the suit, Russell denied that such an agreement is in the works.
"I have no feelings at all (about a settlement)," she said. "My whole push has been to get our (legal) representation collected, and that's done now."
Russell, who chaired the council committee that fashioned the redistricting plan, insisted that the city did "a good and careful job."
However, she did not rule out the possibility of an out-of-court settlement.
Imminent Settlement Denied
Meanwhile, John Wilson, a Justice Department spokesman in Washington, said no settlement is imminent.
"I have not heard of any movement," he said, adding that, as is the department's standard procedure, "we are ready to negotiate."
The complaint asks the court to order the city to draw new district boundaries and to require the city to submit all redistricting plans over the next 10 years either to the Justice Department or to the federal court for approval.
Other council members Friday would not discuss the suit or the council vote. Lawyers from the city attorney's office declined to comment except to say that contract terms with Irell & Manella will be worked out Monday.
That firm was chosen over four other law firms for the job, and Jonathan Steinberg, one of its attorneys who will be involved in the case, said Irell & Manella is "delighted with the opportunity to represent the City of Los Angeles."
The Century City firm has represented the 27-member California Democratic congressional delegation since 1981 in a number of court cases, including a defense of new congressional district boundaries, Steinberg said.
Those district lines, which were redrawn by the Democratic-controlled California Legislature in 1981 and again in 1982, have been the subject of legal attacks and public criticism, but legal challenges have been successfully rebuffed.
Last week, the city attorney's office had hired Bruce Cain, a Caltech professor who worked with the state Assembly on its reapportionment plan, as a demographic expert to study the city's 1982 redistricting boundaries. Cain has been operating under an oral contract with the city until a final agreement is negotiated, a city attorney's spokesman said.