LOS ANGELES - California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced on Wednesday his office is launching a formal investigation into Los Angeles’ redistricting process as three of its City Council members face calls to resign after a recording surfaced of them using racist language to mock colleagues while they schemed to protect Latino political strength in council districts.
Bonta made the announcement in a press conference where he also addressed the state's opioid crisis.
While the California DOJ has completed the initial preliminary review, Bonta said his office has a good basis for the investigation and is working around the clock to take "gather the facts and take action as necessary."
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The investigation is in its early stages, Bonta added, saying his office will determine whether there were any violations of state or federal voting rights laws and transparency laws.
"It’s clear an investigation is sorely needed to help restore confidence in the redistricting process for the people of LA," he added.
He said the results could potentially bring civil or criminal results.
"It could lead to criminality if that’s where the facts and the law dictate," he said. "There’s certainly the potential for civil liability based on civil rights and voting rights laws here in the state of California."
"As a father and human being, I am deeply appalled by the remarks made by some of Los Angeles’ highest-ranking officials. Their comments were unacceptable, offensive, and deeply painful. There is no place for anti-Black, antisemitic, anti-Indigenous, anti-LGBTQ, or any kind of discriminatory rhetoric in our state, especially in relation to the duties of a public official," he said.
At this stage, the investigation will be conducted by the California Department of Justice’s Racial Justice Bureau within the Civil Rights Enforcement Section into Los Angeles' 2021 redistricting process and adopted map.
He said the process "is just starting and we don’t like to make conclusions first and get facts later." The investigation will determine the outcome, he said, but he noted it could also lead to changes in policy at the state or local level.
Loyola Law Professor, Jessica Levinson said the councilmembers openly discussed race to try to help certain minorities and diminish the voting power of other minorities in the drawing of district lines.
"We're looking at potentially issues of California's Fair Map Act. We're looking at California's Voting Rights Act and the Federal Voting Rights Act. All of those essentially give procedures for how you can redraw district lines and what you should not do. Some of what we heard is potentially trying to dilute the power of African American voters and this is simply what you can't do when you draw district lines," said Levinson.
Martinez, de León and Cedillo were key in drawing the district lines that were eventually unanimously adopted.
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The three council members are facing calls from President Joe Biden to resign after a recording surfaced of them participating in the closed-door meeting. Martinez is on a leave of absence.
The council reconvened Wednesday, possibly to censure the three members, with the minimum of 10 out of 15 members necessary for a quorum but was unable to do business because a crowd of protesters chanted slogans such as, "No resignation, shut it down." The acting council president eventually announced that there was no longer a quorum and adjourned the meeting.
A Tuesday meeting was nearly derailed when a raucous crowd of protesters packed the chamber.
The council cannot expel the members — it can only suspend a member when criminal charges are pending. A censure does not result in suspension or removal from office.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.