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Lawyer alleges illegal race-based L.A. council district maps

February 26, 2013 |  3:59 pm

A lawyer representing African Americans in South Los Angeles announced Tuesday that he is preparing to file a federal lawsuit alleging that the City Council and a redistricting commission discriminated against his clients when they redrew council maps last year.

Leo James Terrell said the council carved heavily black neighborhoods out of the district represented by Councilman Bernard C. Parks and turned them over to Council President Herb Wesson. Both of the council members are African American.

The moves were aimed at creating a solidly black district for years to come and to shore up Wesson's political base, Terrell said.

We have direct evidence coming out of the mouth of Herb Wesson and members of the redistricting commission who said it was designed to maintain a black seat,'' he said. "It's outrageous for minorities to disenfranchise other minorities."

The lawsuit, which Terrell said he intended to file by the end of business Tuesday, would challenge the new maps on constitutional grounds, the lawyer said. He is seeking to join with a similar federal lawsuit filed last year by Koreatown residents, who say their political influence has been diluted by other changes in district lines.

Wesson's spokesman said he would not comment on pending litigation. The deputy city attorney handling redistricting challenges on behalf of the city was not immediately available. At the time the council adopted the new lines, the city's legal team said race can legally be a factor as long as it is not the dominant one.

The redrawn districts have "effectively dismantled prominent and historic African American communities in Districts 8 and 9,'' Terrell said in a written statement. Voters are preparing to select a new council member for District 9 in Tuesday's primary.

Two other districts subject to the lawsuit, the 8th and 10th, don't have elections until 2015. That should give the court enough time to impose changes if it sides with his clients, Terrell said.


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-- Catherine Saillant at Los Angeles City Hall