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Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Judge blocks appointment of Herb Wesson to LA City Council

The City Council appointed Wesson to temporarily fill in for Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who faces trial on bribery charges.

LOS ANGELES (CN) — A judge on Thursday morning granted a temporary restraining order against the Los Angeles City Council, temporarily blocking Herb Wesson from being seated as a councilman.

Wesson had been sworn in on Tuesday after being unanimously appointed by the 14 City Council members to temporarily fill the District 10 seat held by Mark Ridley-Thomas, who faces trial on bribery charges. Wesson served on the City Council for over 14 years, and as council president for eight years. Term limits barred him from running again, and he unsuccessfully ran for a seat on the LA County Board of Supervisors in 2020.

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California, a group once run by Ridley-Thomas, filed a lawsuit in LA Superior Court this past Friday, seeking to block Wesson's appointment and to reinstate Ridley-Thomas. In an amended complaint filed Wednesday, the group argued Wesson's appointment was a power grab by City Council President Nury Martinez.

"Ms. Martinez has used her position as council president to spearhead the suspension and replacement of MRT with an ally and mentor who not only helped her rise to the council presidency, but who will continue to advance her objectives, including
becoming acting mayor (while serving as council president) upon the impending departure of Mayor Eric Garcetti," the group says in its amended complaint. "So intent was Ms. Martinez (whose deputy is married to Mr. Wesson’s son) on installing Mr. Wesson in MRT’s seat that she ignored the city charter’s express term limits, which bar Mr. Wesson from serving again in the City Council."

Judge Mary Strobel said she didn't see anything in the city charter that gave the City Council authority to appoint a temporary councilmember.

Former Los Angeles City Council member — and erstwhile City Council appointee — Herb Wesson.(Facebook via Courthouse News)

During the City Council's public comment period on Tuesday, more than a dozen residents of District 10 urged the council to appoint Wesson, saying Ridley-Thomas' removal had left them without representation. But John Sweeney, the attorney representing the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, said voters had already shown their distaste for the former council president.

"Voters resoundingly rejected Herb Wesson when he ran for the Board of Supervisors," said Sweeney. "This is a person who served as a councilman for three terms. They felt that someone else was better qualified. They were offended that the city of LA shoved him back down their throats. Now their voice is heard."

Sweeney dismissed concerns that the restraining order would leave District 10 without representation.

"It's only temporary — Mark Ridley Thomas is going to have his criminal trial within the next 6 months," Sweeney said. "He is their elected official. The seat being vacant temporarily, my clients feel, is better than having somebody who is hand-picked, who is going to be beholden to the person who appointed him. They believe that the better thing is for it to be vacant until their elected official has had his day in court."

Council president Martinez took exception to Sweeney's comments.

"The residents of the 10th Council District want and deserve a voting voice, and they overwhelmingly wanted Herb Wesson," Martinez said in a written statement. "This entire situation over the past four months isn’t fair to Council District 10 residents. In fact, they are in this situation through no fault of their own. It is my intention to ensure this district has a voting member. I stand by giving the residents a vote and a voice on the City Council. At this time, we are in discussions with the city attorney and we will determine our legal options."

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference had also asked the judge to force the council to reinstate Ridley-Thomas. She declined to do so.

Wesson could not be reached for comment. The city will have a chance to challenge the temporary restraining order at a hearing on March 17.

Follow @hillelaron
Categories / Government, Politics, Regional

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