Mixed ruling handed down in Porter County redistricting lawsuit

2014-01-23T20:30:00Z 2014-01-23T21:23:42Z Mixed ruling handed down in Porter County redistricting lawsuitJohn Scheibel john.scheibel@nwi.com, (219) 548-4358 nwitimes.com

LAPORTE | A LaPorte County judge on Thursday ordered the Porter County commissioners to fix an apparent error made by the board when it redrew county council districts in December. But the ruling did not immediately address claims made by Councilman Jeremy Rivas that he was intentionally drawn out of his district.

Rivas, D-2nd, claimed in a lawsuit brought against the Porter County commissioners that his civil rights were violated by the county commissioners' decision last month to redraw lines for the four County Council districts when he was moved to District 4, which is represented by political ally Republican James Polarek. He also argued part of Westchester Township Precinct 17 was moved from District 1 to 2, yet that change left a portion of the precinct unattached from the 2nd District — at odds with state law requiring that all four districts be contiguous.

He had asked the judge to order Porter County to restore the council districts to their previous boundaries, which would have allowed him to run again in District 2.

The judge ruled Porter County must move Westchester Precinct 17 back to District 1, which would keep the all of the districts contiguous.

But the judge ruled restoring the previous district boundaries would be "more than likely unconstitutional."

While LaPorte County Judge Thomas Alevisos would not grant a preliminary injunction based on Rivas' civil rights claim, he did rule that it "would be in the public interest for this claim to proceed."

In support of Rivas' civil rights claim, Portage Mayor James Snyder had testified 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.

The judge called Snyder's testimony "sketchy."

Rivas maintains he was deliberately drawn out of his district and said he plans to pursue the civil rights claim against the commissioners.

"It’s just a shame it was done the way it was done," Rivas said. "It cost the taxpayer money to fix the commissioners' error."

Rivas said he still plans to run again in District 2 and will establish residency in the district in the next few months.

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