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 voting representative .
In a one-page order, Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff granted a request by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California for a preliminary injunction restraining Wesson from serving as an acting counselor. The group had asked the judge to impose an injunction until a full hearing could be held on Wesson’s nomination.
That hearing is now set for October 19.
The Southern California SCLC has argued for months that Wesson is not allowed under the city’s term limits law to return to the board. Wesson served more than three terms – the maximum allowed – before being appointed to the temporary post 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 defer to council’s wishes.
Ridley-Thomas was suspended from his post last year. His colleagues took the step after being charged with bribery, conspiracy and fraud in a federal case focused on his time as county supervisor. He pleaded not guilty.
The judge’s Monday order could prompt council members to consider whether someone else should serve as a temporary voting representative in the coming months. The trial in the Ridley-Thomas bribery case is nearly three months away.
Heather Hutt, a political aide who unsuccessfully ran for state assembly last year, served as nonvoting warden for the Ridley-Thomas district, which stretches from Koreatown to the Crenshaw Corridor . Some ward leaders have already begun calling for her to be named the district’s temporary representative if Wesson is deemed ineligible.
“We don’t want to have two months without a voting representative,” said Gina Fields, who sits on the Empowerment Congress West Area neighborhood council. “It’s just not practical at all.”
The judge’s 10-page order has yet to be made public. Nonetheless, SCLC attorney John Sweeney said he welcomes the ruling. He also said his clients would fight any effort to make Hutt a temporary voting member for the district.
Wesson, while serving as temporary adviser, was the one who appointed Hutt as chief of staff, Sweeney said.
“Herb Wesson had no authority, as we see with the injunction, to legally appoint anyone,” he said.
A City Atty spokesperson. Mike Feuer had no comment on Monday.
Prosecutors accused Ridley-Thomas of conspiring with a USC dean to direct county money to college in exchange for admitting her son to graduate school with full tuition and a paid chair.
The city council chose Wesson to temporarily replace Ridley-Thomas in February. Under the arrangement, Wesson was to serve until Dec. 31 — or resign sooner than expected if charges against Ridley-Thomas were dropped or he was acquitted.
Council members had argued that the selection made sense, since Wesson had already held the seat and knew the district. They also argued that it would prevent them from picking someone who, after taking the job, would have a head start in the 2024 race for the Ridley-Thomas board seat.
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The Southern California SCLC, working with several district voters, unsuccessfully tried earlier this year to have Ridley-Thomas’ suspension overturned. Last month, after a backdoor administrative process, the group succeeded in persuading a judge to temporarily bar Wesson from performing all council duties.
Sweeney, in his legal papers, argued in recent weeks that residents of the district would suffer “irreparable harm” if a judge did not impose a temporary injunction barring Wesson from acting as the district’s temporary councilor until that a trial can take place on his appointment.
City attorneys countered that a ruling overturning Wesson’s nomination would deprive district voters of a voting representative while Ridley-Thomas is suspended.
Sweeney challenged the idea that his clients “want the council seat to remain empty”.
The SCLC and the district’s voters “just want legal representation and for the residents of District 10 to have a say,” he said in a recent filing.
Los Angeles Times