November 27, 2021

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L.A. City Council votes to suspend Mark Ridley-Thomas – Los Angeles Times

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The Los Angeles City Council voted Wednesday to suspend Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, one week after the veteran L.A. politician was indicted on federal charges, including bribery and other counts.

The 11-3 vote to suspend him came two days after Ridley-Thomas announced that he would “step back” from participating in City Council meetings and committees. Ridley-Thomas, who has denied any wrongdoing, has said he will not resign.

Ridley-Thomas, in a statement after the vote, said the council had “disenfranchised the residents of the 10th District.”

“They have removed from action a member — and his team — who together are among the most productive and effective advocates on the crisis of homelessness,” Ridley-Thomas said. “I will continue fighting to clear my name, and I remain confident that such will be the case.”


Councilmen Mike Bonin, Curren Price and Marqueece Harris-Dawson voted against Ridley-Thomas’ suspension. Ridley-Thomas was not at the meeting and did not vote.

It was the second time in 16 months that council members voted to suspend one of their own. In June 2020, Councilman Jose Huizar was suspended after he was charged in a federal corruption probe. Huizar was effectively removed from the council; he has denied the charges, and the case has not yet gone to trial.

Federal prosecutors allege that Ridley-Thomas conspired with Marilyn Louise Flynn, former dean of USC’s School of Social Work, to steer county money to the university in return for admission of his son Sebastian into graduate school, with a full-tuition scholarship and a paid professorship. The 20-count indictment includes charges of conspiracy, bribery and wire fraud.

In a letter sent Wednesday morning to City Atty. Mike Feuer and the City Council, Ridley-Thomas’ lawyer warned that any suspension of the councilman would be “unlawful.”

Attorney Michael Proctor wrote that the charges involve allegations that took place when Ridley-Thomas was a county supervisor, so the City Council has no grounds to suspend him.

“The motion to be heard today, authored by Council President Martinez and seconded by President Pro Tempore O’Farrell, is not just rash, it is without legal basis,” Proctor wrote in the letter obtained by The Times. “Simply put, there are no allegations that involve Councilmember Ridley-Thomas’s work as a City official.”

Proctor said that a suspension “would be an unlawful act by the Council, and would be immediately subject to challenge in court.”

Asked by The Times on Wednesday whether he had been contacting his colleagues about the prospect of being suspended, Ridley-Thomas replied yes, through a spokeswoman. He declined to say whom he had been talking to about the vote.

Harris-Dawson said that the charges facing Ridley-Thomas were “qualitatively different” than those against Huizar. The details alleged in Huizar’s case — which included cash and gambling trips — were salacious, Harris-Dawson suggested at Wednesday’s council meeting.

“I resent this idea that you compare one indictment to another,” Harris-Dawson said.

In a series of tweets late Tuesday night, Ridley-Thomas’ wife, Avis Ridley-Thomas, was sharply critical of the council.

“Why are you trying to punish my husband before he can defend against lies? Why rush to judgment? Treat him with the same fairness, respect and decency you would want. #DoTheRightThing,” she wrote in a tweet directed at Council President Nury Martinez and Councilman Mitch O’Farrell.

“Whoever would have believed that the LA City Council would act as judge, jury and executioner based on unproven allegations?” she asked in another tweet.

Avis Ridley-Thomas didn’t respond to an email Wednesday about the tweets.

In voting to suspend the councilman, the council relied on a section of the City Charter that allows for the suspension of an elected officer.

The charter states that the council can suspend an elected officer pending trial if criminal proceedings have been brought against them relating to a violation of their official duties.

Ridley-Thomas’s team, in its letter Wednesday, argued that the councilman is not being accused of a crime that relates to a violation of his “official duties.”

Jessica Levinson, an election law professor at Loyola Law School, said the law could be interpreted more broadly to include public corruption charges brought against a council member for actions allegedly taken in other elected offices prior to their time on council.

“If you look at the spirit of the law here, what you’re trying to do is prevent people who have been accused of things like misuse of public office, or public corruption from continuing to make decisions and exercise discretion,” Levinson said.

UC Berkeley School of Law dean Erwin Chemerinsky, who served as chair of the elected Los Angeles Charter Reform Commission from 1997 to 1999, said he believed Ridley-Thomas has a “strong argument” in stating that the charter section refers to city duties.

“Arguably, Ridley-Thomas is being indicted for violation of official duties as a member of the County Board of Supervisors,” Chemerisnky said via email. “But Section 207 [of the City Charter] implies that ‘official duties’ refers to violations of the Charter or City ordinances.”

City Controller Ron Galperin said this week he would stop Ridley-Thomas’s salary payments and benefits if he is suspended by the council. City Council members earn nearly $224,000 annually.

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