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Judge again blocks Herb Wesson from serving on LA City Council

A nonprofit says the termed-out Wesson was illegally appointed as a temporary fill-in for indicted Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas.

LOS ANGELES (CN) — A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge on Tuesday temporarily barred Herb Wesson from "performing any functions of a council member," the second such ruling in five months.

Wesson had served as president of the LA City Council for eight years, and represented the 10th District on the council for 15 years — three terms, the maximum allowed by law. Nonetheless, he was appointed this past February to temporarily fill his old seat, vacated by Mark Ridley-Thomas after the latter was suspended following an indictment on bribery charges.

After a nonprofit sued, Judge Mary Strobel blocked Wesson's appointment but then reversed herself a few weeks later, deciding that the plaintiffs first needed to be granted standing by California's attorney general.

In June, Attorney General Rob Bonta did just that, writing that "substantial questions of law exist as to whether Wesson’s appointment to the Los Angeles City Council was lawful."

By then, Wesson had already made his presence felt at City Hall, firing three former Ridley-Thomas staffers including the chief of staff.

The lawsuit seeking to block Wesson and reinstate Ridley-Thomas was originally filed days before the appointment by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) of Southern California, a nonprofit formerly run by Ridley-Thomas. The group is represented by civil rights attorney John Sweeney.

"Mr. Wesson was seated illegally because he was termed out," Sweeney said after Tuesday's ruling. "Now the judge has enjoined him, at least temporarily, from performing any council duties. So effectively, he's fired immediately."

The decision again leaves the roughly quarter-million people living in District 10 without formal representation on the 15-member City Council.

"The residents of the 10th District wanted Herb Wesson but the SCLC continues to fight for the seat to remain vacant until Councilmember Ridley-Thomas returns," said City Council President Nury Martinez in a written statement. "Mr. Ridley-Thomas’ trial has been delayed for over a year. How is it fair to the residents of the 10th District to deprive them of representation this whole time? They don’t deserve this.”

In response, Sweeney said, "It’s more important for the people to have a representative that they elected and not someone who was appointed through a nontransparent process."

Wesson's appointment was not without precedent. In 2019, after City Councilman Mitch Englander resigned — he would later plead guilty to falsifying material facts and sentenced to 14 months in federal prison — the council appointed Englander's predecessor Greig Smith to serve as his temporarily replacement. Smith, though, had only served two terms.

According to the motion introduced by Martinez, Wesson was supposed to serve for the rest of the year or until Ridley-Thomas is acquitted, "whichever comes first."

Ridley-Thomas' trial is currently scheduled to start Nov. 15. The longtime local politician, who has also served in the both branches of the Legislature and the LA County Board of Supervisors, is accused of throwing his support behind granting various contracts to USC's school of social work in exchange for a series of favors for his son Sebastian, also a former state Assembly member who was forced to resign after being accused of sexual harassment.

Sweeney said his clients would prefer that Ridley-Thomas be reinstated as a councilman, even while awaiting trial. "We believe it was illegal to strip him of his duties, salary and pension," Sweeney said. But barring that, he said, they would consider other options.

"We want to sit back and see who’s on the council’s short list, and my clients will make their voices heard based on that," Sweeney said.

When asked if the council president would consider appointing a new replacement for Ridley-Thomas, her spokesperson declined to comment.

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