Essential Chronology: Denial of Due Process and Termination of Salary and Benefits

Essential Chronology: Denial of Due Process and Termination of Salary and Benefits
CD10 Editors note: As we approach the one year anniversary of Councilmember Ridley-Thomas being placed on administrative leave without pay, we have prepared an overview of significant events associated with the denial of due process.

October 13, 2021, Councilmember Ridley-Thomas indicted for alleged criminal acts that purportedly occurred while he was a member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. He denies the charges and prepares for trial.  

October 18, Councilmember Ridley-Thomas states his intention to fight “these outrageous allegations” and the expects that will be “fully exonerated” in a letter to the City Council.  Ridley-Thomas offers to continue his duties as Councilmember while stepping back from full Council and Committee meetings so as to allow the Council to conduct its business with minimal distractions.

October 19, City Council President Nury Martinez uses the discretionary power provided to the Council by the City Charter to move immediately to temporarily “suspend” Councilmember Ridley-Thomas from the 10th District seat to “preserve” the “[public] trust” in light of charges stemming from alleged activities during Ridley-Thomas’ time on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and waives normal public hearing rules.  The action disenfranchises Council District 10 (CD10) constituents

October 19, Before the City Council’s vote on Councilmember Ridley Thomas’ suspension, City Controller Ron Galperin announces via Twitter he “intend[ed] to use [his] authority as Controller and Paymaster of the City of Los Angeles to cease [Councilmember Ridley-Thomas”] salary payments and benefits in accordance with the City Charter.

October 20, The City Council approves the Martinez motion to suspend the presumptively innocent Councilmember Ridley-Thomas 11-3 after waiving the normal public hearing rules which effectively limits public input, Council deliberations and the public record.  The Council conducts no evidentiary hearing or investigation. Councilmember Ridley-Thomas is not allowed to vote on the motion or even attend the proceeding. The motion to suspend is silent on  Councilmember Ridley-Thomas’ compensation and the City Council acknowledges that he is still a Councilmember even while temporarily suspended. Neither the motion nor the record of the Council’s deliberations authorize the City Controller or anyone else to terminate Councilmember Ridley-Thomas’ salary for any part of his suspension.

October 20, Councilmember Ridley-Thomas appears in Federal court to plead not guilty to all charges contained in the October 13 federal indictment.  The next hearing in the case is set for December 14.    

October 29, In a letter from City Clerk Holly L. Wolcott to Councilmember Ridley-Thomas she states, “[a] suspended Councilmember retains his or her title but is for all other purposes a member of the public.” In effect, then, he is in practice what amounts to an administrative leave without pay.

December 14, Federal judge continues Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas’ federal trial to August 9, 2022 after federal prosecutors turn over additional evidence as part of discovery.

January 6, 2022, City Controller Galperin announces his candidacy for election to become the California State Controller.  On Mr. Galperin’s campaign website, he listed as “campaign news” his announcements related to Councilmember Ridley-Thomas’ suspended pay.

January 28, South Los Angeles Clergy for Public Accountability (SLACPA) sends a letter to Nury Martinez and Mitch O’Farrell to express concerns that” the very introduction of the motion [to suspend] appears to have provided the basis for Controller Ron Galperin’s the termination of the Councilmember’ any and benefits…” They request a meeting.

February 7, Counsel for Councilmember Ridley-Thomas sends a demand letter to Mr. Galperin addressing the unlawful termination of Councilmember Ridley-Thomas’ salary and benefits.

Framework for Accountable Representation (July 28, 2022)

February 9, SLACPA members meet with Council President Nury Martinez. During this meeting, she asserts that it was not her intention to deprive Councilmember Ridley-Thomas of his pay and benefits and that the City Controller took action unilaterally.

February 10,  SLACPA transmit a letter to Galperin seeking confirmation of the Martinez assertion that his action to revoke Ridley-Thomas’ pay was unilateral.

February 14, Mr. Galperin refers the issue of restoration of compensation raised by Ridley-Thomas’ attorneys to the City Attorney’s office and copies Council President Nury Martinez in writing. Neither Mr. Galperin nor the City Attorney’s office respond substantively to the letter.  Similarly, there is no response from the Council President and no public evidence that the correspondence was shared with other members of the City Council.

February 16, Council President Nury Martinez introduces a motion to appoint a replacement for Councilmember Ridley-Thomas - former Councilmember Herb Wesson.

February 18, CD 10 constituents and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference - Southern California(SCLC-SC)  file a lawsuit seeking a Writ of Mandate and temporary restraining order (TRO) against the Council action to appoint a “temporary” CD10 representative and to reverse Councilmember Ridley-Thomas’ suspension.

February 22, Following the President’s Day holiday weekend, the City Council votes in favor of Nury Martinez’s amended motion to appoint Herb Wesson with no public hearing and no formal process for providing input into his selection. The amendments to the motion request reports back in 7 days from staff regarding 1.) Wesson’s eligibility to serve, and 2.) the cost of and process for a special election.

February 24, The Court issues a TRO that blocks the Wesson appointment as a violation of term limits pending an Order to Show Cause hearing and sustains Councilmember Ridley-Thomas’ suspension pending formal arguments in June. The effect of the TRO is that Wesson is deemed preemptively ineligible to serve.

March 16, SLACPA sends letter to City Attorney Mike Feuer expressing concern about political and ethical conflicts of interest that touch on Councilmember Ridley-Thomas’ revocation of pay and other advice provided to the Council in the matter of CD10 representation.

March 17, Court lifts the the TRO barring Wesson from serving on procedural grounds in an Order to Show Cause hearing pending a quo warranto determination by the California Attorney General regarding plaintiffs’ standing to challenge Wesson’s eligibility.

March 18, Wesson takes oath of office as “temporary” appointee to the CD10 seat.

March 21, Wesson terminates Councilmember Ridley-Thomas’ most senior staff without cause; appoints Heather Hutt as chief of staff.

March 29, SCLC-SC and CD10 plaintiffs file quo warranto application with the California Attorney General seeking standing to challenge Wesson’s eligibility to serve as CD10 representative in violation of the City Charter.

June 22, Attorney General Rob Bonta sides with the SCLC-SC and CD10 residents in concluding that “substantial questions of law exist as to whether Wesson’s appointment to the Los Angeles City Council was lawful.” Bonta’s opinion paves the way for the plaintiffs to move forward in their lawsuit challenging the appointment of Herb Wesson by L.A. City Council President Nury Martinez to represent the Tenth Council District.

July 19, Court enjoins L.A. City Councilmember Herb Wesson from performing any functions of a council member under a second temporary restraining order. According to the Court, the plaintiffs have a sufficient likelihood of prevailing in their argument that Wesson is legally barred from returning to the Council on an interim basis, since he has already served the maximum number of terms under the City’s term limit law.

July 27, SCLC-SC sends letter to Council President Nury Martinez signed by women associated with the organization taking offense at her assertion that SCLC-SC’s motives in calling for transparency and accountability were “suspect”.  The letter states, “by permitting the revocation of pay, you tried to damage his (MR-T’s) ability to finance his legal defense…”

July 27, LA Times Editorial: L.A. is too quick to freeze City Council members’ pay upon suspension.

July 28, CD10 Voices for Empowerment transmits a Framework for Accountable Representation that makes several recommendations to the City Council in the form of motions consistent with their advocacy of transparency and charter reform, including a call for restoration of Councilmember Ridley-Thomas’ pay.

July 28, Attorneys representing Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas file a lawsuit against the city, maintaining that City Controller Ron Galperin’s decision to strip him of his salary was unauthorized, unlawful and politically motivated. The lawsuit alleges that “Controller Ron Galperin seized upon the City Council’s suspension of Councilmember Ridley-Thomas for his own political gain. Mere weeks before Mr. Galperin announced his candidacy for California State Controller, Mr. Galperin unilaterally terminated Councilmember Ridley-Thomas’ salary and benefits, posting the unlawful action as ‘campaign news’ on his website.”

August 2, City Councilmember Paul Krekorian introduces a motion requesting that the City Attorney look into whether or not the Controller had the legal authority to make a unilateral decision to suspend pay benefits. The requested motion, seconded by Councilmember Gil Cedillo, gives the city attorney 30 days to report back on Mr. Galperin’s legal authority and what options the city council has.

August 9, City Councilmember Current Price introduces a motion, seconded by Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson, that asks City Attorney Mike Feuer to report to the council within 10 days on whether Galperin could legally suspend Ridley-Thomas’ pay. The motion claims that Ridley-Thomas is suffering an “extreme personal financial burden … especially if ultimately the litigation is resolved with exoneration….We need quick action by the City Attorney to opine as to the legality of the Controller’s action to withhold salary payments.”

August 9, Federal judge agrees to prosecution’s and co-defendant’s motions to continue trial over Councilmember Ridley-Thomas’ opposition until November 15.  

August 22, Court issues a preliminary injunction that continues to bar Herb Wesson from performing any official Los Angeles City Council duties in place of suspended Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas.

August 25, Wesson formally vacates CD10 seat in which two temporary restraining orders, the California Attorney General, two judges and a preliminary injunction found him to be presumptively ineligible to serve.

September 2, City Council expedites the appointment of Heather Hutt as the temporary replacement for Councilmember Ridley-Thomas, against the backdrop of consistent community calls for transparency and accountability. All while motions to address the violation of due process associated with the legality of the termination of Ridley-Thomas' salary and benefits languish in the City Council Rules Committee.

September 21, Attorneys formally serve the City with notice of the lawsuit filed with the Court on July 28 attributing, “The delay in serving the Controller Ron Galperin and the City of Los Angeles with the lawsuit was in response to two City Council motions that would, if acted upon, have allowed the City Council to handle Councilmember Ridley-Thomas' compensation issues outside of continued litigation. That has not happened.”

October 20, One year anniversary of Council action to suspend Councilmember Ridley-Thomas. The motion is silent on compensation. Absent explicit direction from the Council, Controller Galperin exceeds his authority by revoking Ridley-Thomas' compensation, and unilaterally placing him on administrative leave without pay, thus denying him due process.