A Superior Court judge has cleared the way for former Los Angeles City Councilman Herb Wesson to return to City Hall, at least for now, saying a civil rights group failed to follow due process to challenge Wesson’s appointment.
Judge Mary H. Strobel declined to rule Thursday on whether Wesson has legal standing to return as a temporary replacement for council member Mark Ridley-Thomas, who has been suspended and is fighting corruption charges.
Instead, she said the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California and other plaintiffs cannot directly seek a court order to remove Wesson without first obtaining Atty’s approval. General Rob Bonta.
Strobel, who worked for the city’s attorney’s office from 1999 to 2002, vacated the injunction she issued last month that prevented Wesson from performing his council duties. She also denied the plaintiff’s request for an injunction barring him from attending the council.
The ruling marked another sharp turn in the political journey of the city’s 10th Ward, which stretches from Koreatown to Leimert Park in south Los Angeles. Wesson, who served on the council from 2005 to 2020, said after the hearing that he was happy with the decision.
“All through that time, my only interest was serving my community,” he said. “This decision allows us to focus on what matters most, which is bringing the community together and making sure the people of the 10th Ward are represented.”
Prosecutors have accused Ridley-Thomas of conspiring with a USC dean to channel district contracts to the university. In exchange, Ridley-Thomas’ son, Sebastian, was accepted into USC’s graduate school and received a full scholarship and a paid professorship, prosecutors said in their 20 points indictment.
The council responded to the charges by suspending Ridley-Thomas and leaving the district with a non-voting caretaker. District residents said the move left them without political representation, effectively disenfranchising them.
The council last month voted to appoint Wesson as a temporary voting member and directed him to fill Ridley-Thomas’ seat no later than December 31. Council members indicated that if the charges against Ridley-Thomas were dropped or he was acquitted, Wesson would leave sooner.
The Southern California SCLC, along with several constituents in the Ridley-Thomas District, filed a lawsuit challenging that decision, arguing that the term limit law barred Wesson from rejoining the council. Strobel placed her order days later, Block Wesson from attending as a councillor, handing the plaintiffs a victory and setting the stage for Thursday’s hearing.
Asked about the decision, Council President Nury Martinez said residents of the 10th Ward had “overwhelmingly suggested” that he fill the seat.
“The judge previously ruled that the Council had absolute authority to suspend Councilor Ridley-Thomas, and today she denied the petitioners’ motion to prevent Mr Wesson from serving as Councilor for the 10th Circuit,” she said. “The people of the 10th century deserve a vote on this council and today we gave them that.”
During the hearing, attorneys for the SCLC of Southern California argued that Wesson’s appointment would cause “irreparable harm” to the district. It could be months before the attorney general’s office determines whether it supports the lawsuit against Wesson — and ultimately decides against it, attorney Crystal Nix-Hines said.
In the meantime, she said, Wesson could make important spending and staffing decisions. “He could fire all of Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas’ staff tomorrow,” she said.
A spokesman for City Atty. Mike Feuer declined to comment. In their court filings, the city’s attorneys argued that any challenge to Wesson’s ability to hold public office required a “quo warranto” action, requiring the consent or participation of the attorney general.
City attorneys said Wesson’s appointment would give the district a temporary voting member while establishing a process for Ridley-Thomas to return if he is acquitted of the charges.
A lawyer for Ridley-Thomas was less positive, saying voters were being “denied their rights to democratic representation”.
“Mark Ridley-Thomas’ primary concern is for those voters and for those rights,” said attorney Michael J. Proctor.
Attorney John Sweeney, who also represents the SCLC of Southern California, said he did not consider the verdict a defeat because the judge failed to address the issue of Wesson’s eligibility. He said his clients plan to notify prosecutors of their challenge.
“This will be before that judge again in a very short time,” he said.
https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-03-17/judge-rules-herb-wesson-can-return-to-the-city-council-for-now The judge allows Herb Wesson to return to City Hall – for now