Judge says Herb Wesson can stay in 10th District City Council seat for another month, but can’t vote – Daily News

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge on Tuesday, July 19, again granted a temporary restraining order that bars former LA City Councilman Herb Wesson for at least a month from acting in as the voting representative for the 10th City Council district.

The city council is expected to return from summer recess within a week, which means the 10th arrondissement will not have a representative who can vote on council decisions and handle district issues until at least August 16, when Lawyers for both parties will have another opportunity to make submissions to Superior Court Judge Mary Strobel regarding a possible preliminary injunction to continue to bar Wesson from performing his duties as counsel.

The growing resentment over the situation was clear in comments by Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez, who on July 19 criticized the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California (SCLC), saying, “It is false that a group of individuals with suspicious agendas are working to prevent over 250,000 residents from being represented on this council. Residents of the 10th District wanted Herb Wesson, but the SCLC continues to fight to keep the seat vacant until council member Ridley-Thomas returns.

The controversy arose from federal charges against Ridley-Thomas claiming he engaged in bribery. He will go on trial later this year. Martinez said in his statement, “Mr. Ridley-Thomas’ trial has been delayed for over a year. How is it fair for the inhabitants of the 10th arrondissement to deprive them of representation all this time? They don’t deserve this.

Los Angeles City Council Speaker Nury Martinez (File photo by Dean Musgrove, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Harry McElroy, one of the plaintiffs in the case against the city, said the decision to appoint Wesson was due to “political expediency” because Wesson is seen as an ally of Martinez. He suggested a “simple solution” – reinstate Ridley-Thomas, who is “innocent until proven guilty”.

“I think (the temporary restraining order) is like a reality slap for the city council to realize that people are watching,” McElroy said. “They are going to have to go through some type of process. So I think I’m optimistic that at least some of the board members are going to feel they need to be transparent.

The city council nominated Wesson to fill the Ridley-Thomas seat in February, and the backlash came quickly. The restraining order that bars Wesson from voting and managing district affairs came after attorneys representing a group of 10th District residents and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California challenged his suspension and the appointment of Wesson.

The July 19 decision leaves the district’s business in motion until August 16, when the court must revisit the issues again.

The District 10 seat on the City Council became vacant last October when Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas was suspended by his colleagues after he was indicted on federal corruption charges. Ridley-Thomas’ trial is scheduled to take place in November.

Ridley-Thomas faces charges that, as an LA County supervisor, he took bribes to help his son get a paid job as a professor at USC, and the helped secure a USC scholarship, in exchange for awarding significant LA County funds to USC. Ridley-Thomas is also charged with conspiracy, mail fraud and wire fraud. The charges are unrelated to his tenure on city council.

The Reverend William Smart, who leads the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, said the board now had to ‘make a transparent decision’, and he said ‘there was no transparency in the process’ which led to the Wesson’s appointment to Ridley- Thomas’ seat.

Pastor Eddie Anderson, reacting to Tuesday’s decision, argued that suspending “duly elected Mark Ridley-Thomas” and then replacing him “was not public and completely disregarded the overwhelming choice made by voters in the 10th District.”

He said community members had offered ways to the council to fill the seat, including reappointing Ridley-Thomas as councilor, until he was “proven guilty”.

The council could also “engage in a community process where people are engaged in a town hall process…or finally, there are more collaborative ways of working together,” Anderson said. He added, “Residents have already been deprived of representatives because there has been no open communication about the agenda or the plan.”

Mark Ridley-Thomas (file photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)
Mark Ridley-Thomas (file photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

The court granted a restraining order in February that also barred Wesson from taking the seat for about a month. The judge determined that the restraining order stopping Wesson’s nomination required the approval of California Attorney General Rob Bonta. Bonta granted that clearance late last month.

The latest restraining order prevents the city council “from allowing Mr. Wesson to serve as a sitting council member”, according to Judge Strobel.

Strobel said she granted the temporary restraining order after concluding that the plaintiffs’ arguments against Wesson’s nomination were likely to succeed. The plaintiffs say Wesson should be disqualified because he has already served the maximum three terms on the Los Angeles City Council, and was therefore disqualified.

There is a ‘narrow exception’ in a section of the City of Los Angeles charter that allows someone who has been removed from office to hold a seat – if they remain less than half the years in the seat open, Strobel noted. But, she noted, Ridley-Thomas was suspended with more than half of his term remaining, so that exception doesn’t apply.

Lawyers representing the city argued that the section of the city charter that prevented Wesson from filling the seat was moot because it applied to permanent vacancies. But Strobel later noted that another city attorney appeared to contradict his colleague, saying parts of the provision applied.

City attorneys also argue that Ridley-Thomas’ suspension is temporary. They said that if there was a permanent appointment or an election to take the seat, it could create a problem if Ridley-Thomas was exonerated – as he could still run for the seat.

The first in-person council meeting since pandemic restrictions were put in place at Los Angeles City Hall on Wednesday, May 4, 2022. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)
The first in-person council meeting since pandemic restrictions were put in place at Los Angeles City Hall on Wednesday, May 4, 2022. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

The legal challenge will be formally considered again, at a hearing before Strobel scheduled for October 20.

Wesson was appointed by the city council to temporarily replace Ridley-Thomas until December 31 of that year – or until the federal charges against Ridley-Thomas are dropped or he is acquitted.

The 10th Ward includes West Adams, Koreatown, Mid-City, and other neighborhoods. Ridley-Thomas began his term on city council in December 2020 after winning a runoff. His dismissal less than a year after taking office raised concerns among voters. Some opposed the suspension, while others called for his seat to be filled by a representative as soon as possible.

Ridley-Thomas volunteered to step down from his advisory duties and he opposed the suspension. He said he expected to be cleared of federal corruption charges stemming from his tenure on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. Plaintiffs challenging his expulsion include the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California, which Ridley-Thomas led in the 1980s.

Wesson, prior to his current role, had “finished” his duties by serving three full stints in District 10 from 2007 to 2020. Wesson also represented the district in 2005, when he won a special election to fill a seat left vacant. by Martin Ludlow. , who resigned to lead the Los Angeles Federation of Labor. Wesson served as city council president from 2012 to 2019.

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