Ridley-Thomas rests the defense, calling two former LA County supervisor colleagues

Lawyers for suspended City Council member Mark Ridley-Thomas concluded their defense on Wednesday, and while the veteran politician did not take the witness stand, two former colleagues on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors did. .

Janice Hahn, the current chairman of the board of supervisors, followed soon after by retired supervisor Sheila Kuehl, testified under oath that Ridley-Thomas did not urge them to support three motions that prosecutors say were tainted by a corrupt conspiracy with a USC dean. .

“Did our client, Dr. Mark Ridley-Thomas, pressure you in any way to vote for this proposal?” asked defense attorney Arturo Gonzalez about a proposed USC contract extension for a remote mental health clinic.

“No,” said Hahn, who wore a royal blue blazer and a cross around his neck. “I don’t remember that motion specifically,” Hahn said of USC’s telehealth program. “It was something we believed in.”

There are no allegations in the case that Ridley-Thomas pressured fellow board members to vote a certain way. But Hahn and Kuehl’s testimony — no more than 15 minutes — was part of a parade of mostly current or former Los Angeles County employees and officials summoned to speak to local government jurors.

The inside county account was linked to testimony from former Federal Election Commission commissioner Ann Ravel, who said Ridley-Thomas’ $100,000 donation from a campaign account through USC to the association His son’s nonprofit was legal under California law, despite the lack of transparency about the end recipient.

“He was absolutely within the law,” Ravel said.

The defense’s focus appeared to show that the council’s three actions — for the telehealth clinic, for a probation rehabilitation center near USC, and a probation employee training program — were not part of a corrupt counterparty with a USC dean, as prosecutors allege. , but rather the result of a well-meaning and banal bureaucracy.

The testimony — in a courtroom full of Ridley-Thomas supporters — sets the stage for closing arguments on Thursday.

Karly Katona, a longtime aide who became chief of staff at the Ridley-Thomas City Council office, testified to a “thorough internal vetting process” for motions brought forward by her boss.

“He would pull out his red pen,” Katona said of Ridley-Thomas reading draft motions.

Witnesses also attested to Ridley-Thomas’ longstanding ties to USC and the depth of his political goals, particularly for the issues that form part of the case: mental health, probation and post-rehabilitation. incarceration.

“He really thought people deserved a second chance,” said Katona, who summed up his philosophy as follows: “People don’t do well in a cell.”

Emily Williams, a former Ridley-Thomas employee, testified about handling a confidential letter from a USC dean that was hand-delivered to the supervisors office. The letter was a central part of the prosecutors’ case, exposing Marilyn Flynn’s claims in the alleged quid pro quo.

Williams said she recognized the letter from a 2017 meeting when Ridley-Thomas called her at her office.

“Had he ever called you into his office to look at some letters?” asked defense attorney Ramsey Fisher. Yes, she replied – a weekly occurrence.

Other testimony appeared to inoculate Ridley-Thomas from the emails that make up the bulk of prosecutors’ evidence. Williams was asked about an email in which Ridley-Thomas told the USC dean, “Your wish is my command” with a wink emoji.

“He used emojis with her because he used emojis with us,” Williams said, prompting laughter in the courtroom. “He sometimes said these pithy, succinct things.”

During cross-examination, prosecutors sought to highlight the former staffers’ loyalty to Ridley-Thomas, as well as the limits of their knowledge.

When asked if she knew in May 2017 if Ridley-Thomas was discussing with Flynn about her son’s participation in USC’s social work program, Williams said no.

“Is it because you wouldn’t be aware of the conversations the accused had with Marilyn Flynn?” Deputy American Atty. Michael Morse asked.

After the departure of the jury on Wednesday afternoon, assistant US Atty. Lindsey Dotson summed up the defense arc in court: “The suggestion is, ‘Nothing to see here people,'” Dotson told U.S. District Judge Dale Fischer.

The defense bookend was not Ridley-Thomas but his wife.

Avis Ridley-Thomas shared how the couple had been high school sweethearts now married for 44 years. They have twin sons, Sebastian and Sinclair.

Sebastian’s resignation from the State Assembly and the benefits he received from USC are at the heart of the allegations against her husband. Avis offered glimpses of that time, particularly her son’s poor health, in a calm cadence.

“He just wasn’t okay,” she said. “It was clear he needed to do something else with his life.”

There were no questions about the full scholarship and work he received from USC or the ongoing sexual harassment investigation when he resigned.

Instead, jurors heard that Sebastian moved in with his parents, started his master’s degree at USC, and “seemed relaxed.”

“He took it very easy,” Avis said.

Los Angeles Times

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