A judge on Monday barred former Los Angeles City Councilman Herb Wesson from returning to City Hall as a temporary replacement for Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, leaving his south Los Angeles district without a proxy voter.
In a unilateral order, Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff granted a request from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California for an injunction barring Wesson from serving as an interim councilor. The group had asked the judge to grant an injunction pending a full hearing on Wesson’s appointment.
That hearing is now scheduled for October 19.
The Southern California SCLC has been arguing for months that Wesson is barred from returning to the council under the city’s term limit law. Wesson served more than three terms — the maximum allowable — before being called to the temporary position earlier this year.
City lawyers have argued that the city charter is silent on how to fill a temporary vacancy – and that the court should yield to the wishes of the council.
Ridley-Thomas was suspended from his post last year. His colleagues took the move after he was charged with bribery, conspiracy and fraud in a federal case centered on his stint as district chief. He has pleaded not guilty.
The judge’s order Monday could prompt council members to consider whether someone else should serve as temporary proxy for the next few months. The trial in the Ridley-Thomas corruption case is almost three months away.
Heather Hutt, a political assistant who ran unsuccessfully for state assembly last year, served as the non-voting caretaker for the Ridley-Thomas district, which stretches from Koreatown to the Crenshaw Corridor. Some neighborhood leaders have already begun targeting her as the district’s interim election representative if Wesson is deemed unelected.
“We don’t want two months without a proxy,” said Gina Fields, who serves on the Empowerment Congress West Area neighborhood council. “It’s just not practical at all.”
The judge’s 10-page decision has not yet been made public. Still, SCLC attorney John Sweeney said he welcomes the decision. He also said his clients would oppose any effort to temporarily make Hutt a voting member of the district.
Wesson, who was serving as a temporary councillor, has appointed Hutt as his chief of staff, Sweeney said.
“Herb Wesson, as we see with the injunction, had no authority to legally appoint anyone,” he said.
A spokesman for City Atty. Mike Feuer had no comment Monday.
Prosecutors have accused Ridley-Thomas of conspiring with a USC dean to funnel money from the county to the university in exchange for accepting his son into grad school with full tuition and a paid professorship.
The City Council chose Wesson as a temporary replacement for Ridley-Thomas in February. Under the agreement, Wesson was to serve through December 31 — or resign early if the charges against Ridley-Thomas were dropped or he was acquitted.
Council members had argued that the selection made sense since Wesson had previously served on the seat and knew the district. They also argued that this would prevent them from picking someone who would have a leg up in the race for the Ridley-Thomas seat in 2024 after taking office.
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The Southern California SCLC, in conjunction with several county voters, tried unsuccessfully earlier this year to have Ridley-Thomas’s suspension lifted. Last month, after a circuitous administrative process, the group managed to persuade a judge to temporarily bar Wesson from performing any council duties.
Sweeney argued in his legal filings in recent weeks that if a judge did not issue an injunction preventing Wesson from serving as a temporary councilor for the district pending a court hearing, there would be “irreparable harm” to the residents of the district his appointment can take place.
City attorneys countered that a decision nullifying Wesson’s appointment would deprive borough voters of a proxy while Ridley-Thomas is suspended.
Sweeney disputed the idea that his clients “want the council seat to remain vacant”.
SCLC and the district’s constituents “just want legitimate representation and for District 10 residents to contribute,” he said in a recently filed filing.
https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-08-22/judge-rules-on-herb-wessons-return-to-los-angeles-council Judge issues order keeping Herb Wesson off the City Council