LOS ANGELES – Civil rights attorneys are asking state officials to investigate Kern County prosecutors in connection with the recent filing of misdemeanor charges against a county supervisor.
MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) sent a letter Thursday to California Attorney General Xavier Becerra requesting a probe of Kern County District Attorney Lisa Green’s office to determine if her decision to file charges against Supervisor Leticia Perez may have been “motivated by pressure from other County officials who seek to retaliate against Supervisor Perez as a result of her trial testimony” in a recent federal Voting Rights Act lawsuit filed against Kern County officials.
“Intimidation through prosecution is one of the oldest means of maintaining and reinforcing power structures that exclude minority group members,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel. “The timing of the inquiry and the unusual nature of these misdemeanor charges warrant an investigation to ensure that Kern County is not engaging in retaliation; such retaliation is unlawful and a grave threat to civil rights.”
In the letter, MALDEF notes that “intimidation and retaliation for participation in civil rights violation presents a severe danger to the future enforcement of civil rights guarantees by chilling participation in such litigation by critical witnesses. To ensure that the civil rights laws of the State of California and of the United States are uniformly and fairly enforced, MALDEF requests that your office conduct an immediate inquiry into any improper connection between the Kern County District Attorney Office’s unprecedented charges against Supervisor Perez and her exercise of her First Amendment right to testify for Plaintiffs in a successful federal voting rights case against the Board of Supervisors.”
MALDEF sued Kern County in 2016, alleging that a 2011 redistricting plan adopted by the Board of Supervisors violated Section 2 of the federal Voting Rights Act (VRA) because it denied Latinos the right to elect candidates of their choice.
Perez testified as a plaintiffs’ witness during a 2017 trial that later ended with a federal judge ruling the Kern County Board of Supervisors electoral plan violated the VRA. The case concluded with the adoption of a redrawn districting plan that includes two Latino-majority districts, the cancellation of the June primary election, and three seats up for election on the November 2018 ballot.
“Allegations of so-called misconduct raised on the heels of a voting rights case that transformed the political landscape of Kern County suggest that Supervisor Perez is paying for her part in bringing about that long overdue change,” said Denise Hulett, lead counsel in the Kern County voting rights lawsuit and MALDEF National Senior Counsel. “The District Attorney’s duty is to uphold and enforce the law uniformly. Prosecutorial power is not a tool for retribution, and most certainly not for reprisal for participation in civil rights enforcement.”
This month, prosecutors abruptly filed two misdemeanor charges against Perez for her vote last fall on a marijuana industry measure that failed to pass. Prosecutors allege there was a conflict because of her husband’s consulting contract with cannabis advocates.
However, Perez had previously disclosed her husband’s work and sought guidance from county counsel on possible conflicts of interest before casting her vote. Kern County Counsel Mark Nations reviewed the contracts and informed Perez he saw no conflict of interest, according to MALDEF’s letter.
Read the letter here.