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Hardeman Challenges Thomas’ Use of ‘Incumbent’ : New Legal Skirmish in Inglewood Council Race

Times Staff Writer

Inglewood City Council candidate Garland Hardeman, adding another twist to a two-year legal battle over the city’s District 4 seat, has asked the Los Angeles Superior Court this week to order his opponent to stop portraying himself as an incumbent.

Hardeman is seeking an injunction that would prevent opponent Ervin (Tony) Thomas from describing himself as an incumbent throughout the campaign, even though Thomas spent nearly two years in office. In court papers filed Monday, Hardeman said Thomas violated state election law in his official two-page candidate’s statement filed earlier this month with the city clerk, when he said he was “elected” two years ago and when he urged voters to “reelect” him in the Oct. 3 election.

A judge annulled Thomas’ June, 1987, election in December, 1987, and ordered another contest between Thomas and Hardeman after finding that Thomas campaign workers intimidated voters and improperly handled absentee ballots on Election Day. Thomas, however, remained in office for almost two years, until this May, when his appeals in the case were exhausted.

“My opponent continues to violate the law after massive fraud in the last election,” Hardeman, a Los Angeles police officer, said at a news conference Tuesday outside City Hall. “Many voters are very intelligent, but some could be fooled by his masquerading as an incumbent councilman.”

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The election code says candidates cannot pretend or imply that they are incumbents “when that is not the case.” The code also gives the city clerk authority to challenge candidate’s statements “upon clear and convincing proof that the material in question is false, misleading or inconsistent.”

City Atty. Howard Rosten said he advised City Clerk Hermanita Harris not to make a ruling on Thomas’ campaign statement because it is not a clear-cut case and “the government should not involve itself in free speech or election issues unless absolutely necessary.”

Hardeman’s petition seeks to force the city clerk to delete all references to incumbency from Thomas’ official statement before it is mailed to registered voters, along with the sample ballot.

Thomas’ statement says: “When you first elected me your councilman in 1987, you saw the difference between smooth talk and hard work.” Later in the statement, Thomas says: “Thank you for voting to reelect a good neighbor--a great councilman--Tony Thomas.”

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Hardeman’s attorney, Mark Borenstein, said Thomas’ campaign statement is “absolutely inconsistent” with Superior Court Judge Leon Savage’s 1987 decision annulling the election results and revoking Thomas’ certificate of election. Borenstein said it was a “quirk” in the election law that allowed Thomas to remain in office pending appeals in the case.

Thomas did not return several telephone calls this week, but he said previously that he disagrees with the court’s decision to annul the election and does not believe he was implicated in any illegal activities. He said he plans to run on his record during his two years in office.

Thomas’ attorney, Robert Stroud, called Hardeman’s petition “trivial” and an attempt to gain more publicity for his campaign.

Stroud said Thomas was elected in 1987 and did make legal votes on the council for almost two years, while the case rose through the courts. He said the dispute over the wording on the campaign statement could have been best resolved if Hardeman had simply talked to Thomas about his objections.

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A hearing on Hardeman’s petition is scheduled for early August, Borenstein said.


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