Judge Who Issued TRO Preventing Wesson’s Council Service Recuses Self

LOS ANGELES (CNS) – A judge who recently again blocked Herb Wesson from acting as a temporary replacement for suspended Los Angeles City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas has removed herself from further proceedings in the case.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mary H. Strobel had issued a temporary restraining order on July 19 preventing Wesson from performing any council functions. The decision effectively blocks him from representing the district, although it did not formally remove him from his temporary appointment.

On Wednesday, Strobel’s clerk issued a minute order in which the judge explained her decision to remove herself from the case brought by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California:

“The court has received city’s opposition to the order to show cause re: preliminary injunction (and) for the first time in this litigation, the city argues that the legislative history of proposed changes to the city charter in 1999 are relevant to the issues in the preliminary injunction. Because the judge worked as a staff member for the elected Charter Reform Commission, one of the two commissions recommending those changes in 1999, the court recuses itself in the interests of justice.”

The case was reassigned to Judge Mitchell L. Beckloff, who will hear the SCLC’s request for a preliminary injunction on Aug. 17.

Strobel’s July 19 ruling marked the second time she had issued a TRO against Wesson’s service on the council. On Feb. 24, Strobel sided with the SCLC’s challenge to Wesson’s appointment, issuing an order preventing him from serving. She later vacated the order and declined to issue a preliminary injunction, saying that procedurally, the SCLC needed to obtain permission from the state Attorney General’s Office to proceed with its legal challenge.

As a result, Wesson began serving on the council in mid-March. In June, however, the Attorney General’s Office cleared the way for the SCLC to proceed with its challenge, opining that there were legitimate questions about whether Wesson’s appointment was legal.

The SCLC contends that Wesson is “termed out” since he already represented the 10th District from 2005 through 2020, serving as council president from 2012 to 2020.

Attorneys for the city argued against the restraining order, saying in part that there was no urgency for such a ruling — as noted by the SCLC’s decision to wait roughly a month after the attorney general’s ruling to even seek an injunction. City attorneys also claimed that the restraining order would do nothing to address the SCLC’s primary allegation that the City Council had no authority to suspend Ridley-Thomas.

Ridley-Thomas was suspended from the council last October, following his federal indictment on corruption charges.

Ridley-Thomas and former dean of the USC School of Social Work Marilyn Flynn are charged in a 20-count indictment alleging a secret deal in which Ridley-Thomas — when he was a member of the county Board of Supervisors — agreed to steer county money to the university in return for admitting his son Sebastian Ridley-Thomas into graduate school with a full-tuition scholarship and a paid professorship.

Flynn allegedly arranged to funnel a $100,000 donation from Ridley- Thomas’ campaign funds through the university to a nonprofit to be operated by his son, a former member of the state Assembly. The donation prompted an investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles that remains open, prosecutors said.

In exchange, the indictment contends, 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.

Both defendants have strongly denied any wrongdoing and promised that evidence will clear their names.

The motion to appoint Wesson as a temporary replacement was unanimously approved by the council on Feb. 22. According to the appointment, Wesson is supposed to hold the position through Dec. 31 unless Ridley-Thomas is acquitted or the charges against him are dropped.

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