Judge takes Porter redistricting suit under advisement
By Amy Lavalley Post-Tribune correspondent January 16, 2014 3:00PM
Porter County Councilman Jeremy Rivas has filed suit over new district lines. | Post-Tribune File Photo
Updated: February 18, 2014 6:27AM
LAPORTE — Porter County Councilman Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, will have to wait a little longer to find out if he’s now living in District 4.
On Thursday, LaPorte County Circuit Court Judge Tom Alevizos took under advisement a decision on a lawsuit filed by Rivas and a handful of Porter County residents against the Porter County Board of Commissioners on their December changes to the County Council districts.
A number of issues hang in the balance, including a so-called “bubble” — a part of Westchester Township Precinct 17 placed in District 2, but surrounded by District 1, against a state statute calling for districts to be contiguous. According to court testimony, two people live in the bubble.
Rivas’s candidacy also is on hold until there’s a ruling, because he said in court he’s waiting to file for a second term until the matter is resolved. Filing opened Jan. 8 and continues through noon on Feb. 7; Rivas has said he will sell his house and move to remain in his district.
From the standpoint of Crown Point attorney Edward Hearn, who is representing Rivas and the others in the case, Alevizos should either invalidate the new districts, which commissioners passed on Dec. 17, or, alternatively, put off the May primary, because there isn’t time under state deadlines to redraw the boundaries and order the ballots.
Hearn filed an amended suit Thursday, claiming the redistricting violated Rivas’ 14th Amendment rights because he was being deprived of his civil rights without due process.
According to the amended complaint, commissioners did the redistricting “to make it difficult, if not impossible, for Plaintiff Rivas to run for re-election in Porter County’s 2014 election.”
Hearn called Portage Mayor James Snyder, whose city is partially represented by Rivas, to testify about a conversation he had with Board of Commissioners President John Evans, R-North, before the redistricting.
An uncomfortable Snyder, who considers both Evans and Rivas friends, said private, political conversations take place all the time, and he’s had them about members of the Portage City Council.
He said he didn’t remember the time, place or duration of his conversation with Evans.
“The premise was that the districts would be drawn fairly and accurately, and would not include Mr. Rivas in his district,” Snyder said.
Indianapolis attorney William Bock III, who was hired by commissioners for defense in the case, called Commissioner Laura Blaney, D-South, to testify about the redistricting process.
She said she saw a list of the precincts being moved around but never saw a map of the new districts, and didn’t know the districts would not be contiguous. She also denied there was any motivation on the commissioners’ part to push Rivas out of his district.
“It wasn’t an easy vote but it was fair,” she said, adding commissioners changed the boundaries to balance population differences among the districts.
Commissioners filed with the court a proposed solution, of moving the bubble into District 1, but Hearn said that wouldn’t fix the problem.
In the meantime, no one has filed for any of the council seats.
A lot of people haven’t filed for the election, Alevizos said, “because the deadline’s not for three weeks.”