A complaint filed Thursday with the U.S. Department of Justice in Los Angeles contends that thousands of county residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities have been denied the right to vote.
The complaint submitted by the Disability and Abuse Project alleges that Superior Court judges are violating the federal Voting Rights Act by relying on literacy tests to determine if adults in limited conservatorships should have voting rights.
The group also contends that judges and court-appointed attorneys are in violation of the law that allows people with disabilities to have assistance in completing voter-registration forms and in casting ballots.
Limited conservatorships are arrangements administered by probate court judges in which parents or guardians are given legal oversight for adult sons or daughters who might lack the capacity to make some financial, medical or other decisions.
Judges in Los Angeles process some 1,200 new limited conservatorship cases per year and cases remain "open" until the conservatee dies, according to the advocacy group.
Since people with developmental disabilities often receive a conservatorship order when they turn 18, their cases may stay open for decades. During this time, they may remain disqualified from voting because they fail the literacy test imposed by court officials, according to the complaint.
There may be 10,000 or more open limited conservatorship cases in Los Angeles County alone, with perhaps 40,000 or more open cases throughout California, advocates said.
"What is happening in Los Angeles is the tip of the iceberg," said attorney Thomas F. Coleman, who filed the complaint for the advocacy group on behalf of limited conservatees under
the jurisdiction of the Superior Court. "The problem of voting rights violations of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities is not isolated to Los Angeles. Such civil rights violations are occurring elsewhere in California. Indeed, this is happening in many states throughout the nation."
—City News Service