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Court Will Rehear O.C. Petition Case

April 21, 2006|Juliet Chung | Times Staff Writer

In an unusual move Thursday, a federal appeals court decided to rehear its decision that petitions to recall a Santa Ana school board trustee should have been written in Spanish as well as English.

Voting rights advocates had said the November decision by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals could require election officials statewide to circulate recall petitions in other languages in addition to English.

The November ruling, however, did not grant a new election to Nativo V. Lopez, who was recalled in 2003.

It did overturn a lower court decision that the civil rights of three Latino voters who said they mistakenly signed the petition, which was only in English, were not violated. The three said they could have better understood the petition had it been in Spanish.

The rehearing is expected in June before the full panel of 15 judges.

Reviews of this kind are seldom granted. In 2005, 853 petitions for such reviews were filed and 21 were granted, according to Dave Madden, assistant circuit executive for the court.

The court's decision to rehear the case was welcomed by Deputy County Counsel Wendy J. Phillips, who represents the two defendants, the Orange County registrar and the assistant registrar of voters at the time.

Phillips said her petition for a rehearing pointed to a potential conflict between the 9th Circuit ruling and decisions by two other appellate courts. She said those judges ruled that minority-language requirements in the Voting Rights Act did not apply when individuals circulate initiative petitions.

The plaintiffs' attorney, John Trasvina, interim president and general counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said he expected another favorable ruling.

"We're going to continue to argue that all voters in California deserve information about matters that go on the ballot," he said, "not just those who are proficient in English."

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