By Ray Richardson
LOS ANGELES — Mounting financial hardship for suspended Los Angeles 10th District City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas and a three-month delay of his trial on federal corruption charges has led him to file a lawsuit against City Controller Ron Galperin and the city of Los Angeles to restore his salary and pay attorney fees.
Ridley-Thomas, prohibited from representing the 10th District since last October, has lost approximately $171,000 in salary since the City Council suspended him pending the outcome of his trial.
Ridley-Thomas’ trial, originally scheduled to begin Aug. 9 in federal court, was pushed back to Nov. 15. The delay led to further concerns about Ridley-Thomas’ financial status, which supporters claim will be more strained as he awaits the start of his trial.
“This lawsuit is overdue,” said Rev. Norman Johnson, pastor of First New Christian Fellowship Baptist Church and a member of Clergy of Public Accountability, a group of about 30 Los Angeles-area ministers supporting Ridley-Thomas.
“Even with the suspension, which we do not agree with, their actions did not require taking away his compensation, benefits and pension,” Johnson said. “At a time where he has a tremendous legal challenge in front of him, he needs all the resources available to him to mount a robust defense.”
Ridley-Thomas is represented by the law firm of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart and Sullivan, a firm that has offices in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Attorneys are seeking a declatory judgment for Ridley-Thomas on the basis that Galperin’s termination of salary and benefits during his suspension was unlawful. Ridley-Thomas contends that Galperin’s actions violate the Los Angeles City Charter.
Legal arguments listed in the lawsuit cite City Charter Section 218(a), which does not grant the controller the right to revoke or suspend a council member’s salary. The lawsuit also cites that City Charter Sections 260-266, which specify the controller’s duties and powers, makes no reference to the controller having authority to suspend a council member’s salary.
Ridley-Thomas, Galperin and City Council President Nury Martinez could not be reached for comment.
“The support for Ridley-Thomas is pretty substantial,” Johnson said. “The suspension was levied before he had a chance to enter a plea. He was denied due process and the presumption of innocence. Over 65% of the residents in the 10th District voted for him to represent the district. Now their votes are nullified.”
Ridley-Thomas and Mary Flynn, the former dean of USC’s School of Social Work, are facing a 20-count indictment containing allegations that he funneled $100,000 to the program when he was a member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
The indictment alleges 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.
Ridley-Thomas and Flynn have denied the charges, which also include allegations of Ridley-Thomas securing county contracts for services provided by USC’s School of Social Work to the county Department of Children and Family Services and the Department of Mental Health.
The alleged influence from Ridley-Thomas with the agencies reportedly would have generated more than a million dollars in added revenue for USC.
Ridley-Thomas was hopeful that his trial would start on Aug. 9 in order to make a speedy case for his innocence and restore his income.
Ridley-Thomas’ attorneys sent a letter to Galperin and the City Council in February seeking an update on the request to reinstate Ridley-Thomas’ salary and benefits. Johnson said the attorneys and his organization did not receive a response, another factor that contributed to the lawsuit, according to Johnson.
The 10th District currently does not have formal representation in the City Council. A series of legal actions resulted in a temporary restraining order two weeks ago that removed interim Councilmember Herb Wesson from serving in the role until a hearing is scheduled.
Ray Richardson is a contributing writer for The Wave. He can be reached at email@example.com.