Mission Viejo: Election Lawsuit Has ‘No Merit’

By Micaela Ricaforte
Micaela Ricaforte
Micaela Ricaforte
May 13, 2022 Updated: May 13, 2022

The city of Mission Viejo said May 12 it is prepared to defend its recent move toward district-based elections in court, saying a lawsuit filed against the city regarding the change has “no merit.”

Last month, Mission Viejo resident Michael Schlesinger filed the suit alleging all five of its city council seats should be up for election in November due to a 2018 lawsuit settlement in which the city agreed to change its voting model to cumulative voting, where voters would cast up to five ballots for the city’s five council seats.

That new voting model was to have started in 2020. But after having difficulty getting approval from the state to implement it, the date was pushed to 2022.

Either timeline resulted in changing the terms of councilors elected in 2018 and 2020 to be for two years only, instead of the usual four-year terms.

For two years, city officials say, they attempted to implement the new voting method.

But while the issue was still in doubt, it voted in the summer of 2020 to extend the terms of the councilors elected in 2018—Wendy Bucknam, Greg Raths, and Ed Sachs—to be for four years, which had been the city’s normal course.

The city has now scheduled the election for councilors Trish Kelley and Brian Goodell elected in 2020 for the 2024 ballot.

City officials say in both cases, elections for its councilors have reverted to the usual four-year staggered terms, as the city ultimately in 2021 declared cumulative voting could not be implemented because of concerns from the state.

City Attorney William Curley said in the statement that Schlesinger’s lawsuit is “without merit,” as the city worked to comply with the 2018 lawsuit’s stipulations but was blocked by the state, which does not allow the cumulative voting method in any city without legislative action by the state.

“This lawsuit by Mr. Schlesinger is completely without merit, and the city looks forward to vigorously defending it and prevailing in court,” Curley said. “The city has diligently worked in good faith to lawfully comply with those stipulations and has done just that.”

Prior to 2018, Mission Viejo used an at-large voting system, in which all voters could vote for all seats in an election.

The Southwest Voter Registration and Education Project sued the city in 2018, saying the at-large voting system disenfranchised Latino voters, which violated the California Voting Rights Act.

Schlesinger was not immediately available for comment.