On September 24, 2014, a Visalia law firm filed a case under the California Voting Rights Act against the San Benito Health Care District (“the District”). The only explanation for that filing is greed – this law firm, Melo and Sarsfield, wants to generate profits for itself in the form of attorneys’ fees for bringing a case without any merit whatsoever. A case that in no way will advance any legitimate interest or objective.
These lawyers seek a change in the way District Board members are elected. Specifically, they seek a change from “at-large” elections, in which all Board candidates run for the seats that are up in that election cycle, to a system in which Board members are elected from specific areas within the District to specific seats on the Board, or “zone” elections. They also seek to change the schedule for elections from the current staggered approach to a system where all five board members would be elected in the same year. Directors serve four year staggered terms. The current system elects two directors in the November election, with three directors being elected two years later. These lawyers want to remove all Board members before their terms are up.
The problem? These lawyers had no reason to file this case, because on Thursday, August 28, 2014, the District decided to change the way in which its board members are elected. Specifically, the Board determined that it would move to zone elections from the current at-large system and has begun taking steps to implement the change. It is a change that requires the drawing of zones within the District, which must be done by a demographer or someone else with similar expertise. The Board, of course, could have studied the issue to determine whether such a change was warranted under the law in the first instance, but instead decided just to move ahead with the change because it was good policy.
Moreover, it is the California Legislature that determined, in California Health & Safety Code section 32100 – and not the District Board, that the elections should be staggered. This presumably is due to the need to have continuity on the Board to run the District’s health care system. In any event, it is state law and not District policy.
The District repeatedly informed these lawyers of these facts – that the Board already determined and had begun moving to zone elections, that state law requires staggered elections, and that removing Board members before their terms expire would violate the First Amendment rights of the voters who exercised their franchise to vote for the candidate of their choice for a specific term as well as the rights of the Board members themselves. In fact, these lawyers were again apprised of these facts as recently as Monday, September 22 – just two days before filing and serving this frivolous complaint against the District.
The San Benito Health Care District has agreed to and is proceeding with implementing zone based elections in a similar fashion that the Salinas Valley Memorial Health Care District did successfully in 2011, again without a lawsuit being filed.
Unfortunately, greed compelled these lawyers to file this lawsuit, which will do nothing but waste the District’s precious resources – resources that are much better spent in the provision of health care. Thus, the District is forced to hire its own lawyers to defend a lawsuit that is brought without legitimate purpose.