SCLC-SC Lawsuit could leave the 10th District with “No Vote and No Voice” Once Again
California Attorney General Rob Bonta has re-opened the possibility of a lawsuit filed by Mark Ridley-Thomas supporters to sue over the selection of Herb Wesson as a temporary member of the Los Angeles City Council, throwing the status of Los Angeles’ 10th Council District back into question.
Bonta issued an opinion granting the court challenge by the Rev. William Smart of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California (SCLC-SC) to Wesson’s appointment. Pastor Smart, Joy Atkinson, Kwame Cooper and Harry McElroy (collectively known as the Registered Voters of District 10) have argued that Wesson is ineligible to serve as an interim replacement for Councilman Ridley-Thomas, who is fighting federal corruption charges and was suspended from his post last year.
In an opinion issued on June 22, Bonta said, “We conclude that substantial questions of law exist as to whether Wesson’s appointment to the Los Angeles City Council was lawful…Further, the public interest will be served by allowing the proposed [legal challenge] to proceed.” John Sweeney, an attorney for the SCLC-SC, said he and his clients “will decide in the next day whether to file for a temporary restraining order seeking Wesson’s removal.”
Herb Wesson, who honorably served as the councilman of the 10th District for more than 15 years, but was excluded from running again do to term limits, was appointed unanimously by the Los Angeles City Council to serve as the interim councilmember following Ridley-Thomas’ suspension from the City Council after his federal indictment.
Sweeney, who is also the attorney for Registered Voters of District 10, said, “We believe that he is illegally holding office. And that’s why we wanted to keep the status quo and put no one in there until Mark Ridley-Thomas’ criminal trial came around.”
Many 10th District citizens found this hard to accept, since Ridley-Thomas was originally set to go to trial in August 2022, but now the trial has been moved November 2022 and could potentially get moved again.
“Herb Wesson has done a good job representing the district during Mark’s absence. Not having Herb in office until Mark’s trial is over leaves the district with no representation and us without a voice for at least a year,” observed one longtime District 10 resident.
Wesson said he had been enjoying retirement, spending time with his wife, children and grandchildren before being called back into service. “When there was a need for someone to temporarily step in and keep the district running, there was no way I could say no to my neighbors and friends that I love so much,” he said.
Under the L.A. City Charter, council members are limited to three four-year terms. However, they can also serve a portion of another official’s unexpired term if that official steps down ahead of schedule.
The fate of the 10th District has been in limbo since Ridley-Thomas, who was elected as the district’s councilmember in November of 2020, was indicted on bribery, conspiracy and fraud charges in October 2021, for alleged crimes which occurred during his time as a member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
Ridley-Thomas, along with his co-defendant, USC Dean Marilyn Louise Flynn, is accused of steering L.A. County funds to USC in return for favors. Ridley-Thomas has pleaded not guilty and has vowed to fight these charges to the very end to clear his name.
Registered voters of District 10 filed an initial lawsuit to stop the Wesson appointment, have Ridley-Thomas reinstated to the City Council, and reverse the City Controller’s decision to suspend his pay and benefits. The court ruled that the city was within their right to suspend Ridley-Thomas as well as suspend his pay and benefits.
However, Judge Strobel ruled that the decision concerning Wesson’s appointment, which exceeds the city policy regarding term limits, needed to be decided by the Office of State Attorney General Rob Bonta. In their legal filings, the city’s lawyers argued that any challenge to Wesson’s ability to serve in public office requires a “quo warranto” action, which requires the consent or involvement of the attorney general.
The Council voted to suspend Ridley-Thomas following his indictment and Council President Nury Martinez appointed Ridley-Thomas’ Chief of Staff Karly Katona to serve as the caretaker for the district until the end of 2021. This decision created a lot of complaints from residents of the 10th district who saw this “caretaker” title as leaving them without a voting representative to weigh in on budget decisions or re-districting matters, which were going on at the time of Ridley-Thomas’s suspension.
In February, the Council voted to approve Wesson as the district’s voting representative until Dec. 31, 2022. Under this plan, if Ridley-Thomas is found not-guilty or the federal indictment were to be dropped, Wesson would simply step down clearing the way for Ridley-Thomas to return to his elected office.
Several residents of the 10th district believe that Wesson’s appointment was the most reasonable move and provided the district with a representative who knew the district and the issues of the district better than any other possible candidate. It also ensured that whoever the appointed councilmember was could not run in the next council election either in 2024 or in a special election if the Ridley-Thomas case dragged on or if he were to be found guilty.
As of Sentinel press time, Rev. Smart and the group calling themselves Registered Voters of District 10 had not made a decision on continuing the fight against the Wesson appointment.
Council President Nury Martinez, who led the efforts to appoint Wesson as the interim councilman and was ratified by a unanimous vote of her fellow councilmembers, said she is “determined” to give the district representation.
Also, she has defended the council’s decision on numerous occasions stressing that she had met with numerous community leaders and organization leading up to Wesson’s appointment and said residents in the district had “overwhelmingly suggested Herb Wesson as the most qualified person to serve the district as the interim councilmember.”