By Ray Richardson
LOS ANGELES — Herb Wesson reported to work at City Hall March 21 as the appointed representative of the 10th Council District while a group of South Los Angeles activists continued to fight his appointment to replace suspended Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas.
A coalition led by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California filed a “quo warranto” action March 18 with California Attorney General Rob Bonta to seek permission to continue its lawsuit against the City Council in an effort to block Wesson’s appointment.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mary Strobel ended the temporary restraining order March 17, clearing the way for Wesson to formally represent the 10th District.
At a March 18 press conference, SCLC attorney John Sweeney said the coalition of religious leaders and community activists remain determined to get due process for Ridley-Thomas and have asked Bonta to allow their lawsuit to continue.
“We want the city of Los Angeles to know that this was not a victory for them,” Sweeney said. “This is a procedural hurdle that we have to get over. We want Bonta to act now so the plaintiffs can go back into court and put the injunction back on track.”
A spokesperson for Bonta said his office is reviewing the matter but did not offer a timetable for a potential decision. The City Council and SCLC have 15-20 days to submit their arguments to the Attorney General’s Office regarding the merits of Wesson’s appointment.
Quo warranto is a special form of legal action used to resolve a dispute over whether a person has the legal right to hold the public office they currently occupy.
Wesson represented the 10th District from 2005 to 2020. Because he served three four-year terms, the maximum allowed under the city charter, those who oppose his appointment believe the City Council does not have the legal authority to install him as the district’s temporary representative.
The SCLC coalition is counting on Bonta to see their side of the argument.
“We support this legal process and we declare the innocence of Mark Ridley-Thomas,” said Rev. James Lawson, former Holman United Methodist Church minister and longtime civil rights activist. “The City Council is acting in opposition to the welfare of the Black community.”
The City Council and SCLC will not have an opportunity to present their case to Bonta in the manner of discovery or a courtroom setting. The attorney general views quo warranto as an “administrative function,” which means Bonta’s decision will be based entirely on information presented by both sides.
According to California’s quo warranto guidelines, decisions by the attorney general are “rarely disturbed, if ever, by a court.” If Bonta rules against the SCLC coalition, the group could face a difficult challenge in going back to Judge Strobel for further consideration.
“I’ve been an attorney in L.A. for 40 years,” Sweeney said. “I’m always confident. Our group is up for this challenge.”
If Bonta rules in favor of the SCLC coalition, the group will be allowed to continue its lawsuit, but under direct supervision from Bonta’s office.
In the meantime, Wesson is going about his duties representing the 10th District. Wesson attended his first City Council meeting March 22 and voted on several agenda items.
In an interview, Wesson admitted that he has talked to a few members of the SCLC coalition in an effort to reach an understanding. He declined to discuss specifics of the conversations, but he said there has been “some progress.”
“The important thing right now is for our community to come together,” Wesson said. “Unfortunately, you can’t please everybody.”
One of the first things Wesson did after reporting for work March 21 was dismissing two high-level Ridley-Thomas staff members: chief of staff Karly Katona and deputy chief of staff Fernando Ramirez.
“I have to put in the best people available to me,” Wesson told The Wave. “I want people who know me and know my style.”
Wesson hired Heather Hutt, former state director for then-California U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, as his chief of staff and promoted 10th District director Heather Huttto deputy chief of staff.
Katona had served as a caretaker for the 10th District in the aftermath of Ridley-Thomas’ suspension by the City Council in October. The City Council suspended Ridley-Thomas after he was indicted on federal fraud charges. Katona had no voting privileges in her role, leaving the 10th District without formal representation during Ridley-Thomas’ absence.
After removing Katona and Ramirez, Wesson met with the remaining 21 members of the 10th District staff at City Hall to assure them he is not planning a complete overhaul. Wesson indicated there might be “other needs” in the future for additional staffing, but he said he wants to keep the current staff intact.
“I told them if you want to be on this team, you have a place,” Wesson said. “I told them it’s time to put the people in our district first and deliver services to them. If we focus on that, we’ll be OK.”
Ridley-Thomas’ trial is set to begin Aug. 9. He and Marilyn Flynn, former dean of the USC School of Social Work, are facing a 20-count indictment stemming from allegations of Ridley-Thomas funneling LA County funds to the USC program when he was a member of the LA County Board of Supervisors.
Included in the indictment are allegations that Ridley-Thomas donated $100,000 to the USC program in exchange for the admission of his son, Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, into USC’s graduate school with a full-tuition scholarship.
Ray Richardson is a contributing writer for The Wave. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.