DALLAS, Aug. 2, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- A landmark trial verdict announced today by the Bickel & Brewer Storefront ("Storefront") will dramatically change the voting system in Farmers Branch, Texas, a city that has repeatedly thrust itself into the national debate over immigration reform.
The highly-anticipated verdict, rendered by the U.S. District Court, for the Northern District of Texas, Dallas Division, follows a three-day bench trial this summer and overturns the city's current at-large voting process. The city now has 60 days to submit a plan to remedy its violations of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 ("Voting Rights Act").
In his opinion, U.S. District Court Judge Sidney A. Fitzwater wrote, "Plaintiffs have proved, under the totality of the circumstances, that Hispanics in Farmers Branch have less opportunity than other members of the electorate to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice."
"Farmers Branch is representative of the changing demographics in many communities," said William A. Brewer III, partner at the Bickel & Brewer Storefront. "This verdict is a victory for Hispanic residents who seek a voice in the political process. We hope it is instructive to other municipalities that deny minority populations the opportunity for fair representation."
The Bickel & Brewer Storefront is the community service legal affiliate of the national law firm Bickel & Brewer. On July 20, 2010, the Storefront filed a pro bono lawsuit against the city on behalf of Farmers Branch residents Maria Fabela, Alfonso Baladez, Amelia Baladez, Maria Baladez, Maria Jacobo, Antonio Reyes, Maria Reyes, Diana Rosas, Leticia Torres, and Jose Villaneda ("Plaintiffs"). A three-day bench trial was held June 25 − 27, 2012.
Plaintiffs alleged that the city's at-large system of electing city council members denied Hispanic voters the opportunity to meaningfully participate in the electoral process and to elect representatives of their choice, in violation of the Voting Rights Act. Although the city's population is more than 45 percent Hispanic, no Latino has ever been elected to the city council. The lawsuit attracted national attention because Farmers Branch has been in the eye of the storm of the national immigration debate − and it followed a similar lawsuit in 2007 that was unsuccessful in its bid to prove the city was in violation of the Voting Rights Act.
Relying on expert testimony and recent demographic data, the Storefront successfully demonstrated that electoral districts could be drawn within Farmers Branch with a majority of Latino Citizens of Voting Age Population. As the court noted, Plaintiffs proved the Hispanic population in Farmers Branch is "sufficiently large and geographically compact to constitute a majority in a single member district."
The at-large voting process has allowed Farmers Branch political candidates to gather votes city-wide, effectively preventing minority candidates from being elected into office by voters within a specific district or precinct. Today's court order mandates that the city submit a revised electoral process to the court within 60 days.
"I believe this verdict will give hope to Hispanic voters here and across the nation who have felt disenfranchised," said Maria Reyes, a Plaintiff in the case. "This case confirms the rights and opportunity to which our community is entitled."
Farmers Branch has made national headlines over the last almost six years for its pursuit of an illegal "immigration ordinance" allegedly aimed at discriminating against Latinos. Since 2006, Farmers Branch has adopted a series of controversial immigration ordinances that sought to require renters to register their presence with the city and obtain an occupancy license. The Storefront has successfully challenged each of those ordinances in state and federal court, alleging that the city violated the Texas Open Meetings Act ("TOMA") and that the ordinances are unconstitutional. The TOMA case is scheduled for trial on August 6, 2012.
In July 2009, the Storefront secured a trial victory that proved the City of Irving, Texas, was in violation of the Voting Rights Act.
The City of Farmers Branch was represented by Bob Heath and John Clark Long IV, of Bickerstaff Heath Delgado Acosta LLP.
About Bickel & Brewer Storefront:
The Bickel & Brewer Storefront is the community-service legal affiliate of the national litigation firm of Bickel & Brewer, with offices in Dallas and New York. Founded in 1995, the Bickel & Brewer Storefront tackles local and national issues, providing legal assistance to a wide range of individuals, business and community entities in need. Visit Bickel & Brewer and the Storefront at www.bickelbrewer.com.
SOURCE Bickel & Brewer Storefront