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METROPOLITAN PITTSBURGH CRUSADE v. CITY OF PITTSBU

May 18, 1988

Metropolitan Pittsburgh Crusade For Voters, and unincorporated membership organization, Thomas E. Smith, Florence Bridges, Roy A. Holmes, Reginald D. Plato, Isaac J. Saxon, Claude J. Jones, Isaac Wade, Ronald L. Suber, and Marshall Ross, Plaintiffs,
v.
City Of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a municipal corporation; Richard Caliguiri, Mayor, Eugene Depasquale, Ben Woods, Mark Pollock, Sophie Masloff, Michell Madoff, Richard Givens, Stephen Grabowski, Jack Wagner, James O'Malley, members of the Pittsburgh City Council; Allegheny County Board of Elections; Tom Forester, Pete Flaherty, Barbara Hafer, Commissioners: Allegheny County Democratic Committee: Edward Stephens, Chairman; Allegheny County Department of Elections; James Scanlon, Director, Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: ZIEGLER

 Pending before the court is the question whether the decision of class counsel, with the apparent support of an overwhelming number of class members, to forego additional litigation and support the apportionment plan of the Pittsburgh Apportionment Commission, as an interim settlement of the underlying claims, is fair, adequate and reasonable. We hold that the proposed class action resolution is substantively reasonable compared to the likely rewards of litigation and that the decision of counsel and the class to forego further litigation and await the results of the 1990 census is fair, adequate and reasonable.

 I. History of Case

 In their complaint and pre-trial narrative statement, plaintiffs contend that the at-large system has denied black citizens an equal opportunity to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice. According to plaintiffs, Pittsburgh is governed by an all white council of nine members, despite the fact that blacks comprise "roughly 25 percent of the population of Pittsburgh" and that qualified black persons were unsuccessful candidates for many years, including 1983 and 1985, when the current all white council was elected.

 On May 19, 1987, and prior to trial of the instant case, the voters determined by initiative and referendum to abolish the at-large election of council members in the City of Pittsburgh. *fn1" Pennsylvania law provides that a commission shall be appointed once the electorate votes to revise the at-large method of electing council members, and "the initial apportionment of the districts shall be made by an apportionment commission consisting of seven members, all of whom shall reside in such municipality." 53 P.S. § 1-221(d).

 The parties responded to these political developments by executing a stipulation on June 10, 1987 which provides that:

 1. The Apportionment Commission shall hold public hearings, receive evidence and submit a "final apportionment proposal" to the court on or before February 15, 1988;

 2. The court shall retain jurisdiction and conduct an evidentiary hearing to determine whether the proposal meets the requirements of federal law;

 3. If no objections to the proposal are filed, or if filed and rejected by the court, the court shall issue an order approving the plan as submitted;

 4. In the event the court finds that valid objections have been presented, the court may enter an order requiring the commission to submit a further plan, or enter any order in accordance with federal law;

 5. Plaintiffs shall retain the right to seek counsel fees in a subsequent proceeding on the basis that they are the prevailing parties; and

 6. Defendants shall reserve the right to assert defenses and challenge the claim that plaintiffs are the prevailing parties.

 The Apportionment Commission conducted public hearings at locations throughout the city, received evidence and advice from numerous citizens, and considered various proposals. See Minutes of the Pittsburgh Apportionment Commission. The Commission voted (5-2) to adopt a plan that divides the City of Pittsburgh into nine districts "of as equal population as is practicable and districts which give weight to minority residents," with one elected representative for each district. The majority members of the Commission concluded in a timely submission to the court that:

 
The Plan submitted by the Commission presents a district alignment which contains districts which are compact, contiguous, as equal in population as is practicable, and which do not discriminate against any resident in this City. The map features two (2) predominately black districts and generally respects natural boundaries and neighborhood boundaries.

 Apportionment Commission Plan at 3.

 The two black members of the Commission dissented. They contended that the majority failed to adequately utilize the population data from the 1980 census, "which contains an acknowledged under count;" limited the opportunities and political participation of "one third of this city's population;" and polarized the City into racial and political enclaves in violation of federal law. Minority Report at 2.

 The court ordered that all objections to the plan must be submitted in writing on or before March 1, 1988, and supported by a brief. On March 1, 1988, Thomas J. Henderson, Esquire, counsel for the class, filed a "Response to the Districting Proposal" noting that "with implementation of this apportionment plan, the City's black population will no longer be disenfranchised and, in fact, will be represented on City Council in proportion to its percentage of the total population, at present, as reflected in the 1980 census." ...


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