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L.A. City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas sues City Hall, seeking to restore his pay

LA Times logo LA Times 7/28/2022 David Zahniser
Mark Ridley-Thomas wearing glasses and a suit and tie: Los Angeles Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, pictured in 2020, has sued the city to overturn its decision to cut off his pay while he fights federal corruption charges. (Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times) © (Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times) Los Angeles Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, pictured in 2020, has sued the city to overturn its decision to cut off his pay while he fights federal corruption charges. (Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas filed a lawsuit Thursday seeking to have a judge strike down the city's decision to cut off his pay while he fights federal corruption charges.

In his filing, Ridley-Thomas called the decision by City Controller Ron Galperin to terminate his pay and health benefits "unauthorized, unlawful and politicized." Galperin announced a bid for state controller three months after cutting off Ridley-Thomas' salary, the lawsuit says.

Galperin "acted unilaterally to terminate Councilmember Ridley-Thomas’ compensation in order to further his own political ambitions," the councilman said in his lawsuit.

Galperin, who failed to make the runoff in the state controller's race, declined to comment. Last year, he said he took action to stop payments to Ridley-Thomas after the council voted to suspend the councilman, stripping him of his duties in the wake of corruption charges.

“While Ridley-Thomas has had many years of honorable public service, I will not use city money to pay the salary of an elected official facing federal bribery and fraud charges who is now legally unable to do his job," Galperin said at the time. "The people of Los Angeles deserve better from their government leaders."

Council members earn about $225,000 annually, according to a Galperin aide. Ridley-Thomas pleaded not guilty to bribery, fraud and conspiracy charges last year.

Trial in the corruption case is set for November. In his lawsuit, Ridley-Thomas said he is barred under city law from seeking outside income while he fights the charges. He also contends that Galperin's actions violated the City Charter, the city's governing document.

An order from the court would "undo such a flagrant abuse of authority," the lawsuit states.

Rob Wilcox, a spokesman for Los Angeles City Atty. Mike Feuer, said the city's lawyers would review the lawsuit and had no additional comment.

Ridley-Thomas, a former state legislator and county supervisor, was elected to the City Council in 2020 to represent the 10th District, which stretches from Koreatown to the Crenshaw Corridor in South Los Angeles.

In October, prosecutors publicly accused him of steering public funds to USC in exchange for having the university admit his son Sebastian into the graduate school with a full scholarship and a paid professorship.

The council suspended Ridley-Thomas soon afterward. In February, council members tapped former Councilman Herb Wesson to serve as the district's temporary voting representative until Dec. 31.

Under that arrangement, Wesson would step down sooner if Ridley-Thomas was found to be not guilty or the charges against him were dropped.

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California, along with district voters, filed a legal challenge seeking to strike down the appointment of Wesson, saying he is barred under term limits from returning to City Hall. Last week, a judge concluded that those plaintiffs have a likelihood of prevailing in their case, issuing an order temporarily barring Wesson from representing the district.

Galperin has a track record of cutting off the pay of council members. He suspended Wesson's salary last week, in the wake of the judge's ruling.

In 2020, Galperin terminated the pay of then-Councilman Jose Huizar, after Huizar was charged with racketeering, bribery and fraud in a sprawling City Hall corruption case. Huizar, who represented downtown and part of the Eastside, pleaded not guilty. His trial is set for next year.

Back in the 10th District, Ridley-Thomas' lawsuit is just the latest sign of tumult. Wesson fired the top two aides to Ridley-Thomas earlier this year.

While Wesson is sidelined, chief of staff Heather Hutt is serving as the district's temporary nonvoting caretaker.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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