By Ray Richardson
LOS ANGELES — Opponents of Herb Wesson’s interim role as 10th District city councilman won a legal ruling July 19 when a temporary restraining order was granted to immediately stop Wesson from performing further duties on behalf of the district.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mary Strobel approved the temporary restraining order on the basis of “irreparable harm” to residents of the 10th District, many of whom claim the City Council did not give them a “voice” when Wesson was appointed to replace suspended 10th District Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas.
“It’s a good day for democracy and a good day for the rule of law,” said attorney John Sweeney, who represents the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California (SCLC), the lead organization battling the City Council’s appointment of Wesson. “I’m very happy for my clients and the voters of the 10th District.”
Wesson, who began his interim role in March, is prohibited from serving the 10th District in any capacity until Judge Strobel presides over an initial hearing on Aug. 16.
When Wesson was appointed to replace Ridley-Thomas, he agreed that he would only serve in the role through Dec. 31. Reached by phone, he said he doesn’t want to give up on “serving his people,” but tension over the battle to represent the 10th District is beginning to take its toll.
“Regardless of the outcome from all of this, I feel good about what we’ve accomplished,” Wesson said. “I have no political agenda. I’m not running for anything. I’m just the guy who tried to hold things down until December. The people in the district wanted me to take care of their business, and we’ve done that.”
Judge Strobel’s ruling comes a month after California Attorney General Rob Bonta sided with SCLC and supporters on an appeal request. Bonta ruled that the group can continue its lawsuit against the City Council, a decision that led to Judge Strobel’s temporary restraining order.
The City Council has been out of session this week and is scheduled to return June 26. Wesson said he will abide by Judge Strobel’s ruling and not report to work that day. He did, however, express concern for 10th District residents after the latest developments.
“Until this legal matter is resolved, the real losers in this are the people of the 10th District,” Wesson told The Wave. “The people have nobody to call. They have nobody to go to. Am I frustrated with all that’s going on? Yes. Is this an unintelligent move on the part of some people? Yes.”
Sweeney said SCLC and supporters are hopeful the City Council will move quickly to install a replacement for Wesson, perhaps as early as July 26 when the council reconvenes at City Hall after a three-week summer recess.
The City Council addressed the 10th District’s lack of representation after Ridley-Thomas was indicted on federal corruption allegations last October. A week later, the City Council voted to suspend Ridley-Thomas, activating the process to install Wesson as his interim replacement.
City Council President Nury Martinez expressed disappointment that the council has to find another solution to the 10th District’s lack of representation.
“It’s wrong that a group of individuals with suspect agendas are working to keep over 250,000 residents from having representation on this council,” Martinez said in a statement. “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.
“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.”
Ridley-Thomas’ trial is scheduled to begin Aug. 9. Ridley-Thomas 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 a reported $100,000 of Los Angeles County funds to the USC program when he was a member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
Part of the indictment against Ridley-Thomas alleges that the “donation” was in exchange for the admission of his son, Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, into USC’s graduate school with a full-tuition scholarship. Ridley-Thomas and Flynn have denied the charges.
In the aftermath of the temporary restraining order against Wesson, SCLC is planning to ask the City Council to reinstate Ridley-Thomas immediately and let him continue his duties representing the 10th District. Ridley-Thomas was elected by 10th District voters in 2020.
“The suspension of Ridley-Thomas was discretionary,” said 10th District resident Harry McElroy, a software engineer and plaintiff in the lawsuit against the City Council. “There’s no reason he should not be reappointed. I have a little more faith in the L.A. political system than I did a year ago when our duly-elected official (Ridley-Thomas) was suspended.”
McElroy added that SCLC also plans to ask for a revision of the City Charter, which sets bylaws for council members and city of Los Angeles employees. The City Charter limits council members to three four-year terms. Wesson served his maximum terms when he was 10th District Councilman and City Council President from 2005-20.
The fact that Wesson is “termed out” has been a major contention for SCLC and supporters, who have questioned if Wesson has the legal right to serve the 10th District, even on an interim basis.
“We want to make sure changes are made to the City Charter, so this doesn’t happen again,” McElroy said.
Ray Richardson is a contributing writer for The Wave. He can be reached at email@example.com.