State OKs lawsuit opposing Herb Wesson appointment.

A state official paved the way for a group of South Los Angeles community leaders to appeal the selection of Herb Wesson as a temporary member of the Los Angeles City Council, which put into question the future of his nomination to City Hall.

atty General Rob Bonta issued a statement granting the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California’s motion to challenge Wesson’s appointment in court. The civil rights group has argued that Wesson cannot act as an interim replacement for council member Mark Ridley-Thomas, who is fighting federal corruption allegations and was suspended from his post last year.

In Wednesday’s statement, Bonta said the Southern California SCLC raised significant questions about whether the council’s selection of Wesson violated the City Charter, the city’s government document. The city’s term limit law could prevent Wesson from holding that office again, he said.

“We conclude that there are significant legal questions as to whether Wesson’s nomination to the Los Angeles City Council was lawful,” Bonta’s decision read. “Furthermore, the public interest is served by allowing what is proposed [legal challenge] Continue.”

John Sweeney, an attorney for the SCLC of Southern California, said he and his clients would decide the next day whether to file an injunction seeking Wesson’s removal. Residents in the 10th Circuit didn’t vote for Wesson, who was appointed to the post during a “secret process,” he said.

“We believe he is illegally holding office,” Sweeney said. “And so we wanted to maintain the status quo and not put anyone in there until the criminal trial of Mark Ridley-Thomas is complete.”

Rob Wilcox, a spokesman for City Atty. Mike Feuer declined to comment on the state’s decision. For his part, Wesson said in a statement he would “continue to work in the best interests of the people” until the case is resolved.

Wesson, who previously served on the council from 2005 to 2020, said he was enjoying retirement before being contacted about a return to City Hall. “When someone had to step in temporarily and keep the district running, there was no way I could say no to my neighbors and friends I love so much,” he said.

Under the city charter, council members are limited to three four-year terms. However, you may also serve part of the unexpired term of office of another official if that official resigns early.

The drama surrounding the 10th Council District, which stretches from Koreatown to the Crenshaw Corridor in south Los Angeles, has played out in spurts over the past nine months. Ridley-Thomas, who was elected in 2020, was charged in October with bribery, conspiracy and fraud, in a case stemming from his time as a member of the county’s five-member board of directors.

In their indictment, prosecutors charged Ridley-Thomas with conspiring with a USC dean to funnel money from the county to the university in exchange for his son being accepted into graduate school with full tuition and a paid professorship . Ridley-Thomas has pleaded not guilty and has vowed to fight the charges.

The council soon thereafter suspended him from his post and hired one of his senior associates as the unelected administrator of the district. The move led to complaints from residents who said they no longer had a voting representative to weigh budget decisions and other issues.

In February, the council voted to allow Wesson to serve as the district’s voting representative through December 31. Under the plan, Wesson is scheduled to resign earlier if the charges against Ridley-Thomas are dropped or if a jury finds him not guilty.

Supporters of the move called Wesson a sensible choice, saying he was already familiar with the district and would be barred from running again, preventing the council from selecting a successor to run for incumbent in 2024.

The Southern California SCLC disagreed, joined with several district constituents, and filed a lawsuit to keep Wesson from taking office.

A Superior Court judge initially sided with her and issued an injunction preventing Wesson from engaging in Council business. At the time, she said the plaintiffs had a reasonable chance of asserting themselves with their argument that Wesson had a temporary ban on returning.

The judge also questioned whether the city charter allows for a provisional appointment by the council, which lasts only 10 months.

Weeks later, the same judge reversed their order, concluding that the case could not proceed until the plaintiffs received permission from Bonta’s office to conduct a “quo warranto” action — a challenge to an officer’s suitability to hold public office. Such challenges cannot be filed by a private party without the consent of the Attorney General.

Wesson returned to the council in March and began voting. He fired Ridley-Thomas’s two chief deputies, one of whom had spent several months as the district’s non-voting caretaker. He hired Heather Hutt, who ran unsuccessfully for the state assembly last year, as his chief of staff.

Hutt lives in the district and would be eligible for a provisional appointment himself.

Meanwhile, the SCLC of Southern California submitted its application to Bonta to pursue its challenge in court.

Wednesday’s action gives new impetus to these efforts. In his ruling, Bonta said the legal issues surrounding Wesson’s appointment were a matter of public concern that “would benefit from judicial review.”

Asked about Bonta’s decision, Council President Nury Martinez said she was “determined” to give representation to the district. Martinez, who led the move to make Wesson a temporary councilman, defended the council’s decision, saying district residents “recommended him overwhelmingly for the interim post.”

“Residents of the 10th council circuit wanted a trusted voice on this council, and their choice was Herb Wesson,” she said in a statement. State OKs lawsuit opposing Herb Wesson appointment.

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