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Inglewood Asks Court to Delay Hearing on City Council Election

Times Staff Writer

The city of Inglewood is asking the state Court of Appeal to delay until April a hearing in the long battle over a City Council seat because one of the city’s attorneys has cancer.

A court spokesman said it is unlikely that the hearing, set for Feb. 14, will be delayed.

More than 14 months ago, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Leon Savitch annulled the election of Councilman Ervin (Tony) Thomas. Citing widespread Election Code violations in the June, 1987, balloting, Savitch ordered a new election.

Thomas Still on Council

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But Thomas has continued to occupy the seat, pending the resolution of appeals filed by him, the city and by Garland Hardeman, his opponent in the race.

In a written request for postponement filed Dec. 30, attorney Edward Lascher, who is to undergo surgery for stomach cancer on Monday, argued that he is the only attorney sufficiently knowledgeable to present the city’s oral arguments.

“It would be grossly unfair to the city and improvident from the standpoint of achieving a full hearing of the important and novel issues presented in the case to compel the city to proceed without its chosen counsel,” the request states.

Wendy Lascher, Lascher’s law partner, said Friday that her husband’s cancer was diagnosed Dec. 27, and doctors say it will take six to eight weeks for him to recover from surgery. The city seeks to delay the hearing at least until April.

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Court Clerk Frank Stapleton said the court had not yet formally responded, but he said the presiding judge told him to inform the city’s attorneys that a postponement is unlikely. The court ruled last year it would expedite the appeal process and set oral arguments for the first available date after written arguments were completed. Final written arguments were turned in last month.

“The court is not unsympathetic to what he’s going through,” Stapleton said in an interview. “But the court has determined that this case has priority.”

He said the court is expected to decide on the request this week.

Hardeman’s attorneys on Friday said they will oppose a postponement. They have said the city already has delayed the appeal so that Thomas could stay in the seat, an allegation the city’s lawyers have denied.

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Waited ‘Over a Year’

“Obviously we’re sympathetic to Mr. Lascher,” said attorney Jennifer Miller of Tuttle & Taylor, which is representing Hardeman at no charge because of the public-interest questions in the case. “But somebody else should be able to handle the case,” she said. “We’ve been waiting for over a year now and we hope there isn’t a further delay.”

Miller said the attorneys who represented the city during the trial and who have worked with Lascher on the appeal are sufficiently familiar with the case to present oral arguments.

Jack Ballas, assistant city attorney for Inglewood, said the city hired Lascher because he has a statewide reputation as an appellate specialist and, therefore, his absence from oral arguments would be a “tremendous disadvantage.”

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Highly Regarded Lawyer

Ballas and City Atty. Howard Rosten represented the city in the 1987 trial before Savitch. “We’re both familiar with the case,” Ballas said. “But you’re clearly better off when you’re arguing from something you’ve written. . . . We paid for his services because he’s one of the most effective appellate counsels in the state.”

In his October, 1987, ruling, Judge Savitch threw out 31 votes for Thomas in a decision that implicated Inglewood Mayor Edward Vincent and other Thomas supporters in Election Code violations. The judge found evidence that voters had been intimidated and that they had been deprived of their right to a secret ballot. Vincent has denied any wrongdoing.

The decision is believed to be the first annulment of a City Council election in Los Angeles County since at least World War II.

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Savitch’s ruling raised a thicket of legal questions regarding absentee voting. They center on two competing public interests: guarding against election fraud, and preventing courts from interfering with election results.

Evidence Challenged

In separate appeals, lawyers for Thomas and the city argue that Savitch ruled on insufficient evidence and did not give the city due process before annulling the election.

Hardeman’s lawyers argue that they clearly showed a host of illegal acts by the Thomas campaign. They say Savitch’s mistake was in not naming Hardeman the winner of the election.

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The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office says it is investigating possible Election Code violations. In addition, the state Fair Political Practices Commission says it is investigating allegations that Vincent and Thomas failed to properly report Vincent’s contributions of money and resources to the Thomas campaign.


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