Editorial: Is a termed-out councilman legally sitting on the L.A. City Council? Let a court decide.

Councilman Herb Wesson at a Los Angeles City Council meeting
Councilman Herb Wesson at a Los Angeles City Council meeting on Feb. 8, 2019.
(Los Angeles Times)
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In the months since Los Angeles City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas was suspended from the City Council after his indictment in October on federal bribery charges, his seat was put in limbo.

A majority of the City Council voted to suspend him while he’s fighting federal corruption charges. A resolution in the case could be months away.

In the meantime, the constituents of his district need someone to represent them, but the job has been plunged into a political and legal drama. First, Ridley-Thomas’ chief of staff, Karly Katona, was appointed by Council President Nury Martinez to be the “caretaker” of Council District 10. But she wasn’t allowed to vote on council actions.


Then, last month, Martinez nominated and the council confirmed former Councilman Herb Wesson to fill the seat as a voting member until Dec. 31 or the return of Ridley-Thomas, whichever comes first. Wesson represented Council District 10 from 2005 to 2020. He served three terms — the limit for City Council members — and left elected office after he ran for a seat on the Board of Supervisors and lost.

But Wesson is “termed out,” and a group of District 10 constituents and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California — all Ridley-Thomas supporters — argue that makes him ineligible to fill the seat and vote, even temporarily.

They filed a lawsuit against the city last month to stop Wesson’s appointment. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Mary H. Strobel initially issued a temporary restraining order blocking his being seated. But at a hearing earlier this month, the judge dissolved the order and ruled that the SCLC and the constituents would need to file something called a quo warranto action. That is a method for settling a dispute over whether a specific person has the legal right to hold the public office they occupy.

But first the plaintiffs need California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta’s permission to pursue this kind of action in court. If they get it, then they can go back to court for a decision on whether a termed-out council member can temporarily fill this council vacancy.

So let’s get this resolved. Bonta needs to make a decision as quickly as possible — and he should allow the constituents and SCLC to have their day in court on this issue.

This is not about whether Wesson is fit to be a replacement councilman. It’s about whether he is even legally eligible to be the replacement. The city has had a rash of council seat openings in the past few years occasioned by council members who have faced serious criminal corruption charges. In those other cases, there were no legal gray areas with the people appointed to serve the rest of the term. So let a court decide what is right. The constituents of that district deserve someone who, at the very least, is legally in that seat.