Judge orders Ramona Unified to pay $878K in plaintiff attorney fees in election suit

A judge has ruled that Ramona Unified School District must pay $878,849 in plaintiffs fees, following his earlier decision that the district violated the California Voting Rights Act when it held an at-large school board election in November 2020.

The Jan. 25 decision by San Diego Superior Court Judge John S. Meyer follows a request by attorney Kevin Shenkman for the district to pay attorney fees for plaintiffs Southwest Voter Registration and Terry Maxson and Janie Ramos, both of Ramona, in his lawsuit against the district.

“Plaintiffs achieved their litigation objectives, succeeded on a practical level, and furthered the purpose of the CVRA (California Voting Rights Act),” Meyer wrote in his order. “Thus, as stated in both the statement of decision and final judgment, plaintiffs are the prevailing parties.”

Ramona Unified Superintendent Brian Thurman said Feb. 9 that the district will appeal the ruling. The district is not responsible for paying the fees before the appeal.

“The amount of money being demanded from our school district is a concern, especially since there was no change in circumstances or actions as a result of the case,” said Thurman, who was not superintendent at the time the lawsuit was filed. “The district is hopeful that the Court of Appeal will reverse the decision to award the lawyer attorney’s fees and costs.”

Shenkman said the attorney fees didn’t have to be so high for the district.

“Every step of the way the district had an opportunity and was invited, indeed begged, by me not to go down this path,” Shenkman said. “All along the way, a motion to dismiss denied, summary judgment denied. By the time it got to the trial they should have seen the writing on the wall.”

“If they appeal the amount is going to go up,” he added.

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