Tenth Circuit Urged to Deny Albuquerque’s Attempt to Fine Litigants and Lawyers for Seeking to Vindicate Voting Rights


Yesterday in Baca v. Berry, Campaign Legal Center attorneys, along with attorneys at Jenner & Block, filed a brief in the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit responding to the City of Albuquerque’s efforts to obtain financial sanctions against four of its own citizens and their former counsel for filing a voting rights lawsuit.  Legal Center attorneys represent the individual voters, while Jenner & Block attorneys represent the voters’ former counsel. 

The case started when four Albuquerque voters brought claims challenging the city council’s post-2010 redistricting plan.  After the lawsuit was filed, electoral changes were adopted in the City that prompted the plaintiffs to move to dismiss their case without prejudice.  The City moved to dismiss the case with prejudice.   The district judge held both motions in abeyance for several months and then granted the City’s motion to dismiss with prejudice.  The City then successfully obtained an order from the district judge sanctioning the voters’ counsel in the amount of $48,217.95 for pursuing a frivolous case.  The trial court, however, refused to grant the City’s motion to financially sanction the four individual citizens.  The individual plaintiffs’ counsel appealed the sanctions order and the City has appealed the order declining to sanction the individual voters who filed the suit.   The brief filed yesterday responds to the city’s frivolous attempt to extort its own citizens for invoking their right to bring a lawsuit to protect their constitutional and civil rights, and also replies to the city’s defense of the district court’s sanctions order against the plaintiffs’ former counsel. 

“Unless the Tenth Circuit condemns Albuquerque’s transparent attempt to intimidate its own citizens, many future civil rights violations will likely go unchallenged,” said J. Gerald Hebert, Campaign Legal Center Executive Director. “The city’s conduct in this case bears all the hallmarks of a strategic lawsuit to crush civic involvement and full public participation—an attempt by those in power to scare people away from vindicating their civil rights.  If any party should be sanctioned in this case, it’s the city for filing a frivolous and abusive cross-appeal.”

Hebert added: “Jenner & Block attorneys have once again stepped up to protect voting rights and prevent a gross miscarriage of justice.  We are pleased to have had the opportunity to work with them on this case.”  The law firm of Jenner & Block was recruited to work on this case by the Voting Rights Institute, a joint program launched earlier this year by the Campaign Legal Center and the American Constitution Society.

To read the brief, click here.