Two years and two court decisions after a bitter campaign for Inglewood’s 4th District council seat, the Inglewood City Council has decided the fight should continue in the courts rather than at the polls.
The council followed the lead of a defiant Inglewood Mayor Edward Vincent in voting 3 to 0 to appeal the state District Court of Appeal ruling upholding the annulment of Councilman Ervin (Tony) Thomas’ election and ordering a new vote
Tuesday’s council decision delays any rematch between Thomas and Garland Hardeman, his opponent in the June, 1987, election, until at least September.
Lawyers for the city will ask the appellate court to reconsider the October, 1987, ruling of Superior Court Judge Leon Savitch. If that fails, the city will seek review by the state Supreme Court.
After the city made its decision, Thomas, who abstained during the vote, said he would also appeal the court ruling. Hardeman said he in turn would ask the court to declare him the winner, an appeal that was earlier rejected.
It would be the first Inglewood case to reach the state Supreme Court since 1972, but lawyers on both sides have said Supreme Court review is not likely.
Nevertheless, Vincent, who is Thomas’ political sponsor and a central figure in the election case, said the appeal is imperative. “The courts have done this city a grave injustice,” he said Tuesday. “I have personally been done a grave injustice by innuendo, allegations and outright lies. . . .”
And for the first time, Vincent said he can disprove the courts’ findings that he intimidated voters and invaded their right to a secret ballot during an aggressive absentee ballot drive for Thomas. Vincent said that at a press conference next week he will produce evidence countering those charges and prove “beyond a shadow of a doubt” that he mailed absentee ballots that the courts have ruled were illegally hand-delivered to the polls.
Hardeman, who had urged council members to permit a new election, criticized further appeals as a waste of taxpayers’ money. He called Vincent’s promise to disprove the courts’ findings a “political stunt.”
“It’s too late,” Hardeman said. “These aren’t accusations. They’ve been substantiated by evidence. Two courts have believed them.”
While the city’s lawyers have sided with Vincent, City Atty. Howard Rosten said the mayor’s new material can play no part in the appeal.
14 Ballots Voided
In his 1987 ruling, Savitch invalidated 14 ballots that he said were illegally hand-delivered to the city clerk’s office. The judge discounted Vincent’s testimony that he mailed the ballots. Savitch ruled four other votes illegal because of intimidation of voters and invasion of ballot secrecy after voters testified Vincent solicited absentee votes at their homes. In two of those cases, voters said Vincent punched their ballots for them. Another vote was thrown out because city election officials improperly allowed Vincent, a Thomas campaign worker, to take a replacement absentee ballot to the voter instead of sending it with an impartial election official.
The appellate court ruling last week praised Savitch’s handling of the complex case.
Vincent had angry words Tuesday for the courts and Hardeman--a Los Angeles police officer whose lawsuit overturned the election and who has expressed interest in running for mayor in 1990.
Vincent repeated his contention that Hardeman did not actually live in the 4th District during the election, a charge that both the Superior Court and appellate court dismissed.
In an interview in his City Hall office, Vincent said Hardeman’s continuing campaign for the seat has shown that Hardeman is unfit for the City Council and has lost Hardeman former allies including Councilmen Anthony Scardenzan and Daniel Tabor, who both joined Vincent in voting for an appeal.
“I’m interested in keeping him out of office permanently,” Vincent said. “His conduct at council meetings has been unbecoming of a police officer and of a city councilman.”
Hardeman has periodically addressed council meetings on the case and other city issues, styling himself a “de facto councilman.” Thomas remains in his seat pending appeals.
During a recent confrontation at a council meeting, Vincent summoned police officers to have Hardeman arrested after Hardeman applauded a statement criticizing the mayor and city administrators. After several tense moments, the officers did not arrest Hardeman and allowed him to remain at the meeting.
Vincent noted that Hardeman received $8,500 in political contributions through 1987 from the Centinela Medical Staff Political Action Fund of Centinela Hospital Medical Center. The hospital has had several disputes with the city, and Vincent said the election annulment is a bad precedent that increases the danger that special interests such as the hospital could try to control cities by pouring money into overturning elections. “It’s very important that this election does not open a floodgate for challenges in other cities,” Vincent said. “I don’t want Inglewood to be an example.”
Hardeman dismissed Vincent’s charges as “gutter-level” tactics.
He noted that the mayor has also received contributions from the Centinela staff political committee in past years. He denied the mayor’s charges that the hospital would control him.
“I’m my own boss,” Hardeman said.
As a result of the appeals by Thomas and the city, Hardeman said he also will file an appeal seeking to overturn Savitch’s decision calling for a new election. Hardeman’s effort to be declared the winner was denied by the appeals court.
“My attorneys and I wanted this to end, we wanted it to go back to the people,” Hardeman said. “If we’re forced into an appeal, we’ll have to do it.”
Hardeman expressed disappointment with Scardenzan and Tabor, who backed him in the election against Thomas but have since kept their distance. He said the councilmen, who are up for reelection in April, succumbed to pressure from Vincent.
Scardenzan and Tabor denied Hardeman’s charge.
Both said they want an appeal because the courts implied that city election officials made mistakes. For example, the courts threw out some votes because signatures on ballot applications did not match signatures on ballots that the city counted as valid.
“I want to make clear that this is not a vote against Garland Hardeman,” said Scardenzan, pointing out that he voted for the first appeal when he was still Hardeman’s ally. “If somebody took advantage of the system and twisted it to their own ends, they should be punished. But I cannot allow the city to be punished with them.”
Like Scardenzan, Tabor said he would not have voted for an appeal if the only votes ruled illegal had been those involving intimidation and other Election Code violations by the Thomas campaign. Tabor, who said two weeks ago that he opposed an appeal because of the cost, said he changed his mind because the city should defend its conduct of the election.
Regardless of whether the city is attempting to delay a new election, as Hardeman charges, the appeals mean such an election will not take place until September at the earliest.
The appellate court will have until the end of the month to rule on motions for rehearing, which lawyers said are rarely granted. Court officials said the Supreme Court will have up to 90 days to decide whether to grant requests for review, which are due by the second week of April.
If the case is not reviewed, Thomas will have to step down and a new election will be required within another 120 days. If the state Supreme Court decides to hear the case, a court official said, it will be at least four months before a hearing, and potentially much longer.
Thomas’ term expires in June, 1991.
The appeals thus far have cost the city $40,000 in fees for appellate specialist Edward Lascher, and further work would cost as much as $10,000, officials said. City Atty. Rosten, who represented the city in Superior Court, has said he cannot estimate what that phase of the case cost the city.
Thomas attorney Robert Stroud said his legal services have cost more than $30,000 so far, with further appeals costing between $5,000 and $10,000.
Hardeman has been defended without charge by lawyers for Tuttle & Taylor, a corporate law firm that took his case because of the public interest issues. His lawyers estimate that their services have cost well over $100,000.
Attorneys for the city have criticized Hardeman and his attorneys for failing to report those legal services as in-kind contributions. As a result, Hardeman attorney Mark Borenstein said he has asked the state Fair Political Practices Commission to rule on the question.