The Southern Christian Leadership Conference has filed a lawsuit to push for Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who is facing federal corruption charges, to be reinstated on the Los Angeles Council.
Ridley-Thomas was suspended from office Oct. 20 by his fellow councilmen after a federal corruption indictment became public.
It should be noted that Ridley-Thomas was director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference from 1981-1991.
The lawsuit comes just days before the Council votes to appoint former Councilmember Herb Wesson to temporarily replace Ridley-Thomas.
The lawsuit to reinstate Ridley-Thomas as a councilmember alleges that the decision to suspend him violates the presumption of innocence guaranteed under California law.
He also seeks to prevent the Council from appointing former Councilmember Wesson as his temporary replacement to represent him in the 10th Ward.
It was Council Speaker Nury Martinez who introduced the motion to appoint Wesson on a temporary basis, but was seconded by Councilmembers Mitch O’Farrell, Paul Koretz and Gil Cedillo.
Pastor William Smart, president of the Christian organization that sued against the council’s decision to temporarily put Wesson on council, said in an interview with City News Service that the decision to suspend him was morally wrong, politically indefensible and patently illegal.
“We will not accept that they impose an unelected person on the community.
We believe that the councilman was expelled and we want his position back.”
Wesson represented District 10 from 2005 to 2020. He was also Council President from 2012 to 2020.
The lawsuit states that Wesson has already run out of the term that the law allows him to serve as a councilman, and he cannot legally take the seat because he has already represented the district in three terms.
In announcing the motion to put Wesson at the helm of the 10th Ward, Martinez said that with more than 30 years of public service representing the residents of the 10th Ward, there is no better choice at this time than the former councilman.
“Mr. Wesson cares deeply about the communities he represents and knows the district better than anyone. The voters of Council District 10 need a voting councilmember who understands their community to represent them on Council.”
The appointment must be approved by a majority of councilmembers, and if confirmed, Wesson will serve until Dec. 31, unless Ridley-Thomas is removed or cleared of the charges against him.
Ridley-Thomas’ attorney Michael Proctor released a statement after the lawsuit was filed.
“Mark Ridley-Thomas has been a lifelong advocate for civil rights and believes that the right to accountable and elected representation is fundamental to our democracy. Sounds like that’s what the lawsuit is about. As he has said from the beginning, he has served and is willing to continue to serve as an elected representative accountable to the voters of the 10th district.”
Since Ridley-Thomas was removed from office by the Council, Karly Katona, her former bureau chief, has taken over overseeing District 10. However, she does not have voting authority.
When Councilmember Ridley-Thomas was suspended, it was opposed by Councilmembers Marqueece Harris-Dawson, Mike Bonin and Curren Price.
The trial of Ridley-Thomas and former University of Southern California (USC) school of social work president Marilyn Flynn is scheduled for August 9.
The councilman was indicted on 20 federal counts for bribing the former president of the USC school of social work with millions of dollars in contracts when he was a Los Angeles County supervisor.
He allegedly made a secret deal to divert money to USC in exchange for his son Sebastian Ridley-Thomas being admitted to graduate school on a full scholarship and a paid teaching position.
Flynn reportedly arranged a $100,000 donation to Ridley-Thomas campaign funds through a nonprofit organization run by his son, a former Assemblyman.
This donation gave rise to an investigation by the federal prosecutor in Los Angeles, which is still ongoing.
In return, the indictment states, Ridley-Thomas supported county contracts involving the School of Social Work, including lucrative deals to provide services to the county Department of Children and Family Services and Probation Department, as well as an amendment to a contract with the Department of Mental Health that would bring the school millions of dollars in new revenue.
Ridley-Thomas began his political career in 2002 when he was elected to the Assembly, a position he held until 2006. From there, he jumped to the Senate, where he served from 2006 to 2008. In 2008, he won the election to be Los Angeles County Supervisor, a position which he served until 2020 when the term that by law can be on the Board of Supervisors expired. As of December 14, 2020, he became a Los Angeles City Councilman.
Political consultant Luis Alvarado said the lawsuit to push for Ridley-Thomas’s reinstatement shows the councilman doesn’t want to let go of the reins of the 10th district, and his allies are doing everything they can to get him back.
“Although he has not been found guilty, the federal charges against him are very serious, and he must remain off the Council while his situation is resolved,” he said.
Here the important thing, he pointed out, is that while the investigation is carried out and it is determined whether or not there was responsibility on the part of the suspended councilman, a person must be appointed to respond to those represented.
Mario Beltrán, also a political and electoral consultant, said that the demand for reinstatement is a testament to the solidarity of the African-American community towards its leaders.
“With this lawsuit they are demonstrating their tolerance and recognizing the services that Ridley-Thomas has brought them during their long public career. We must not forget that the councilman has been a charismatic leader and his community has come out to support him in the difficult times he is going through”.
Beltrán agreed that under the Constitution, the councilman is innocent until a trial determines otherwise.