By Michael Lawson
Last October, in a hastily called vote with no public participation or discussion, 11 Los Angeles City Council members rushed to judgment — a political judgment.
Those council members took it upon themselves to ignore one of the principles that make this country stand out as a beacon of light for the world — the principle that a person charged with a crime must be allowed to defend himself before anyone can impose punishment. In the case of a person who holds a public office, there is a process short of a trial by which a legislative body can bring charges against a duly elected official for the alleged misconduct. It is called impeachment.
No such process was discussed concerning Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, at least not publicly. Nonetheless, the 11 members of the Los Angeles City Council rendered a guilty verdict. They imposed harsh penalties, including removing Ridley-Thomas from his role as the duly elected representative of the 10th Council District and eliminating his salary and health care coverage without regard to the principles of due process that we hold dear.
These actions are unfair to Ridley-Thomas and his family. These actions also are unfair to the constituents who elected him to this position last November with a resounding 60% of the vote. These actions are unfair to the citizens of Los Angeles. We expect our elected officials to be the north star of governing in this city, this county, this state and the nation.
Sadly, most City Council members chose to ignore a fundamental pillar of our democratic structure. This rush to judgment is not what I was taught in school, beginning in elementary school through law school. However, it appears that the City Council members who rushed to render a decision on Councilman Ridley-Thomas read a different social studies book.
The City Council’s rush to judgment also ignores another tool at their disposal — impeachment. The impeachment process is remedial rather than punitive. Even here, the ultimate penalty is removal from office after the conclusion of the impeachment proceedings and rendering a judgment of guilty.
Recent examples of this process are easy to find. President Donald Trump was impeached twice and not required to resign his position before the impeachment proceedings. President Bill Clinton was impeached and was not required to leave his office before the impeachment proceedings.
President Richard Nixon voluntarily resigned from office before the conclusion of his impeachment proceedings. These are just a few of many other examples that I could list.
The City Council’s actions put the cart before the horse. The rush to judgment worked against Ridley-Thomas and to the detriment of the 10th District. This process is not who we are; it is not who we want to be, and it is not what we want our children to become.
On behalf of the voters of the 10th District of the city of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Urban League urges the Los Angeles City Council members to do what they know is right. Reinstate Ridley-Thomas as the council member representing the 10th District, along with his salary and his family’s health care coverage, and embrace the standards on which this county was founded.
Michael Lawson is president and CEO of the Los Angeles Urban League.