Displaced councilman claims redistricting violated civil rights

2014-01-16T15:45:00Z 2014-01-23T19:22:06Z Displaced councilman claims redistricting violated civil rightsBob Kasarda bob.kasarda@nwi.com, (219) 548-4345 nwitimes.com
January 16, 2014 3:45 pm  • 

LAPORTE | Porter County Councilman Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, is claiming his civil rights were violated by the county commissioners' decision last month to redraw lines for the four County Council districts.

The amended challenge to the redistricting, which was argued in a LaPorte County courtroom Thursday and taken under consideration by the judge, claims the new districts were created for the purpose of preventing Rivas from seeking re-election to his current seat.

Rivas was moved to District 4, which is represented by political ally Republican James Polarek.

He is claiming his constitutional rights were violated by the commissioners denying him equal protection under the law.

In support of the claim, Portage Mayor James Snyder was subpoenaed for Thursday's hearing and verified that Porter County Commissioner John Evans, R-North, had indicated to him it would be nice if the redistricting left Rivas unable to seek re-election in the 2nd District.

Snyder interrupted the questioning to make it clear he did not want to be in court testifying and considered Rivas and Evans his friends.

Most of Thursday's hearing focused on a geographic complaint raised by Rivas and the four others filing the legal challenge. The group argues the commissioners moved a part of Westchester Township Precinct 17 from District 1 to 2, yet left a portion of the precinct unattached from the 2nd District — and at odds with state law requiring that all four districts be contiguous.

Indianapolis attorney William Bock III, who was brought in as special counsel to defend the commissioners, characterized the issue as a minor problem affecting just two residents. He said it could be left alone with no significant impact on elections or addressed by the court ordering the commissioners to bring the two portions of the precinct back together in the same district.

Attorney Edward Hearn, who represented Rivas and the others, argued for a court order preventing the commissioners from enforcing the new redistricting.

Kathy Kozuszek, who serves as Democratic director at the Porter County Voter Registration Office, testified delays caused by the redistricting and challenge could jeopardize the timing of the May 6 primary election.

Thursday's hearing also served to shed light on some of the politics behind the redistricting.

South District Porter County Commissioner Laura Blaney, who is the lone Democrat, testified she was not given a copy of the new redistricting map until the day the changes were approved by herself and the two Republican commissioners — Evans and Nancy Adams, R-Center.

"I'm in the minority party," she said. "I just asked that it be fair and lawful."

The three Porter County commissioners suspended the rules Dec. 17 to rush through two rounds of approval of the plan, which they said narrows the population gap among the four districts from 10.4 to 3.19 percent. Indiana law requires that districts have as equal populations as possible.

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