Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Judge hears challenge to Porter County redistricting

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LaPorte County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Alevizos heard testimony Thursday in the challenge to the Porter County Commissioners’ redrawn County Council districts.

Alevizos said he would rule sometime next week, plaintiffs’ attorney Ed Hearn told the Tribune Thursday.

County Council member Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd and plaintiffs Danielle Cauley, Ryan Bailey, Patrick Heely II and Brian Smolnicky contend that the Commissioners did not follow state law that requries the four Council districts be contiguous.

The redistricting put part of Westchester Twp. precinct 17 in district 2 but left a disconnected part of the precinct completely surrounded by District 1.

The new map also moves Rivas out of the Portage district he currently represents. Rivas intends to run for reelection this year.

Plaintiffs’ attorney Hearn, of Johnson and Bell in Crown Point, has filed another complaint alleging that because the Commissioners’ did not enact a redistricting ordinance until less than a month before filing for county council elections, it “was purposefully designed to make it difficult, if not impossible, for Plaintiff Rivas to run for reelection in Porter County’s 2014 election.”

If so, there is a violation of Rivas’ 14th Amendment right to due process under the equal protection clause, the suit said.

Filing is currently underway for the 2014 General Election.

The new amendment in the suit said the Commissioners chose not to redraw Porter County’s council districts until Dec. 17 despite having more than 11 months to do so.

County Commissioners in Indiana are to redistrict a year after a federal census is taken, which did not happen in Porter County, the suit said, nor did Commissioners adopt a recertifying ordinance that would make the districts comply with state law.

Hearn asked the judge to either throw out the Commissioners’ ordinance and revert back to the prior districts or suspend the May primary elections due to the time constraints of redrawing new districts that comply with state law.

Hearn called Rivas, Commissioner President John Evans, R-North, Porter County Surveyor Kevin Breitzke, Porter County Voters Registration Democratic Director Kathy Kozuszek, and Portage Mayor James Snyder to testify.

Snyder was subpoenaed to testify about a conversation he had with Evans. Hearn said that Snyder testified Evans indicated a desire to have Rivas off the Council.

Snyder said that the new districts would be drawn fairly and accurately but would not include Rivas in District 2, Hearns told the Tribune.

All three County Commissioners Ð Evans, Nancy Adams, R-Center, and Laura Shurr Blaney, D-South Ð voted to adopt Ordinance No. 13-17 at their last meeting of 2013 on Dec. 17, saying that the populations were as close to equal as possible in the four districts.

The Commissioners’ counsel, William Bock III of Kroger Gardis & Regas of Indianapolis, called on Blaney to testify about her involvement in the mapping process, Hearn said. Hearn said Bock is expected to submit a proposed order by the end of today asking if the judge will allow the “bubble” of Westchester 17 be incorporated into one of the District 1 precincts, which would still be in compliance with the law’s rules on population, or allow the Commissioners to make other changes within the next 30 days.

 

 

Posted 1/17/2014