Both sides claim victory in ruling over Porter County redistricting
By Amy Lavalley Post-Tribune correspondent January 23, 2014 9:03PM
Updated: February 25, 2014 6:41AM
LAPORTE — A LaPorte County Circuit judge ruled Thursday that the Porter County Board of Commissioners will have to remove a noncontiguous “bubble” within recently redrawn council districts, but County Councilman Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd District, who filed a lawsuit over the redistricting, will remain in District 4 under the new boundaries.
Judge Tom Alevizos did rule, however, that Rivas could continue with his civil rights claim that the redistricting was done to purposefully force him out of his district.
“It’s not exactly what we were asking for, but we are pleased with the result,” said Crown Point attorney Edward Hearn, who represented Rivas and a handful of Porter County residents in the suit.
The suit had asked Alevizos to either invalidate the new council districts, which commissioners passed on Dec. 17, or put off the May primary so there would be time to redraw the boundaries.
Alevizos ordered commissioners to fix what was referred to in court as a “bubble,” a tiny portion of District 2 surrounded by District 1. Two people live in the portion of Westchester Township Precinct 17 in that parcel.
According to the judge’s ruling, that parcel was inadvertently created when precinct maps were redrawn at the end of 2011. It still must be fixed because state statute calls for council districts to be contiguous; commissioners will hold a meeting next week to put the precinct completely in District 1.
They had offered in a court filing to remove the bubble, but contended the redistricting process was done properly otherwise, to balance the population in each district.
“As I have said all along, the redistricting plan followed the law and now the courts have agreed,” Commission President John Evans, R-North, said. “Now let’s move on.”
Hearn is glad commissioners have to fix the problem, and that the civil rights claim can proceed. No date has been scheduled in that matter yet.
“We are pleased with that as well because Mr. Rivas will have his day in court,” he said.
Rivas has put his house up for sale and plans to move within the newly configured District 2 so he can run to retain his seat.
He will have to live in the district for at least six months before the November general election.
All of the district seats are up in this year’s election though no one has filed to run, presumably because potential candidates were waiting to see what the ruling would be. Filing ends at noon on Feb. 7.
“It’s always been and continues to be that I represent the people of the 2nd District,” he said. “All of my intentions are to represent the district I’ve been moved out of.”
He said the entire process was a shame.
“It never should have been done the way it was done,” he said. “We knew they didn’t follow the law and the judge is forcing them to do that.”
Commissioners said during the redistricting last month — and again in court on Jan. 16 — that the move was necessary to balance the population between the county’s four council districts.
Alevizos agreed, noting that “it would be a disservice to the public interest” to revert to the old districts, as requested by Rivas and the others in the lawsuit, which would have “the effect of substantially increasing the population disparity among council districts.”