Circuit Judge Thomas Alevizos Thursday ruled against a challenge to the
Porter County Commissioners’ new County Council districts.
The judge did
however order that the Commissioners make changes to correct errors in the
Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, and registered voters affected by changes in the
Commissioners’ redistricting plan sought to have the ordinance be declared
illegal and invalid because not all of the districts were contiguous as
required by state law.
filed a claim that his civil rights were being violated as he contended the
Commissioners purposefully removed him from his district to prevent him from
running as an incumbent in District 2.
Alevizos in his
finding of facts acknowledges that District 2 and District 1 are not
contiguous because Westchester Twp. precinct 17 is split. Three census
blocks in the precinct are unattached to the remainder of the others,
creating a “bubble area” completely enclosed by precincts in District 1.
According to the
ruling, the precinct was split in December 2011 when the County Board of
Commissioners adopted a new precinct map.
Alevizos said he
feels the proper remedy would be to “remove the bubble area” from District 2
and make it a part of District 1, without redrawing the rest of the
districts. This he found more favorable than the solution sought by the
plaintiffs to keep the former district boundaries which Alevizos said would
be unconstitutional because it would exceed the state’s population deviation
limit of 10 percent between districts.
In his ruling,
Alevizos wrote that county commissioner boards in Indiana are to regularly
restructure their four council districts to comply with certain statutory
requirements in the year following a decennial census.
President John Evans, R-North, gave testimony saying that his board had
given consideration to a redistricting ordinance in 2011 but none was
adopted at that time.
into the record shows said that a study done by DePauw University students
indicated other Indiana counties did not redistrict in 2011, which prompted
redistricting in a number of counties in late 2013.
All three Porter
County Commissioners unanimously adopted Ordinance 13-17 to reconfigure
districts on Dec. 17, 2013. Commissioner Laura Shurr Blaney, D-South, also
cast her vote in favor, making it a bipartisan agreement, the ruling said.
that the existing County Council districts prior to Ordinance 13-17 exceeded
the 10 percent population deviation limits set by the state. She also
testified she had no intention of removing Rivas from District 2.
In his conclusion,
Alevizos said that the process leading up to the establishment of Ordinance
13-17 is “substantially compliant” with Indiana law and that the only
exception is the “bubble area” which incidentally is only inhabited by two
Alevizos said the
fact a “small island” was created from Westchester Twp. Precinct 17
“inadvertent” on the Commissioners’ part.
Alevizos said he
did not see reason for a preliminary injunction barring the ordinance and
that granting the plaintiffs’ request for an injunction would “create added
confusion and misunderstanding concerning election districts for the County
proposed an order to the court saying it would correct the “relatively minor
technical defect” of incorporating the “bubble area” into District 1, which
appears would only affect the two citizens living there, which would create
less confusion and misunderstanding than the plaintiffs’ request to toss the
ordinance, Alevizos said.
said he found it necessary to address Rivas’ civil rights violation claim.
He said that such a
claim could be established with shown intent that a Board of Commissioners
purposely moved district boarders to keep a certain candidate off a ballot.
Alevizos said in
his ruling that the plaintiffs failed to establish in his court a cognizable
civil rights claim “to a degree necessary for this court to grant a
In support of the
civil rights violation claim, the plaintiff’s had Portage Mayor James Snyder
testify that he recalled having a conversation with Evans in the fall of
2013 that mentioned placing Rivas in a new district, but he was not able to
remember the details of the discussion, the ruling said.
According to the
ruling, Evans denied telling Snyder “he was out to get” Rivas off the County
Snyder’s testimony “sketchy” and said both Evans and Blaney made clear
denial of intent to harm Rivas.
However, the judge
said that if the plaintiffs could offer evidence establishing intent to
deprive Rivas’ right to run for reelection, they would be able to assert a
valid civil rights claim.
Rivas had told the
Chesterton Tribune that he intends to move his residency within the
confines of the new District 2 to satisfy the requirement to run for
The filing period
for County races will go on as scheduled.
until Feb. 7 at noon to file documents in the Voters Registration office.
Currently, no one
has filed in any of the four County Council district races.
County Commissioners will hold a special meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 29, at 1
p.m. to address the redistricting challenge and the changes that need to be