Lynwood de­fies or­der to hold re­call

The coun­cil strips the city clerk of her du­ties when she tries to cer­tify pe­ti­tions. And it re­fuses to set an elec­tion date. A judge gets the case to­day.

Los Angeles Times - - California - By Hec­tor Be­cerra

A bat­tle over the in­tegrity of the elec­tion process is com­ing to a head this week in Lynwood, where the City Coun­cil has de­fied the Los An­ge­les County regis­trar-recorder and re­fused to set a date for a re­call elec­tion tar­get­ing four of its mem­bers.

The regis­trar-recorder’s of­fice con­cluded in June that there were enough sig­na­tures on re­call pe­ti­tions to force a spe­cial elec­tion for the four of­fi­cials, two of whom were re­cently in­dicted on pub­lic cor­rup­tion charges.

But when Lynwood’s elected city clerk tried to cer­tify the re­call pe­ti­tion, the City Coun­cil voted to strip her of all elec­tion du­ties, ap­point­ing its own elec­tion of­fi­cial to take up the mat­ter.

The city clerk gave the pe­ti­tions to the Sher­iff’s De­part­ment, which has re­jected the City Coun­cil re­quest to re­view the doc­u­ments.

“The only way they’re get­ting them is ei­ther by a re­quest from the elected city clerk or by a court or­der,” said Capt. Steven M. Roller of the sher­iff’s Cen­tury Sta­tion, where the pe­ti­tions are be­ing kept in an ev­i­dence locker. “The only rea­son we are stor­ing the pe­ti­tions is for the in­tegrity of the re­call process.”

The county regis­trar-recorder has set its own re­call elec­tion date for Sept. 25, but the coun­cil is re­fus­ing to call the elec­tion. A Su­pe­rior Court judge will hold a hear­ing to­day to con­sider a re­quest by re­call lead­ers to force the city to call an elec­tion.

Deb­o­rah Wright, ex­ec­u­tive li­ai­son for the regis­trar-recorder, said her of­fice has never han­dled a case like this.

Lynwood of­fi­cials, she said, seem in­tent not only on block­ing the elec­tion but also on learn­ing the iden­ti­ties of res­i­dents who signed the pe­ti­tion — which would be a vi­o­la­tion of state law be­cause the doc­u­ments are sup­posed to re­main con­fi­den­tial.

“It seems clear to me that what the coun­cil re­ally wants is some­one un­der their con­trol to get a look at those sig­na­tures,” Wright said.

City of­fi­cials are fir­ing back, ar­gu­ing that the re­call pe­ti­tion might in­clude fraud­u­lent sig­na­tures. Mayor Louis Byrd said the county was ex­ceed­ing its author­ity.

“We are the pol­i­cy­mak­ers of Lynwood. The county doesn’t set pol­icy for us,” Byrd said Mon­day. “We don’t care if the re­call goes for­ward. We want the process to be fair and just, and don’t feel

[

[ that it is.”

Lynwood, a city of 100,000 south of Los An­ge­les, has had a con­tentious po­lit­i­cal his­tory.

In April, five cur­rent and for­mer coun­cil mem­bers were charged with us­ing pub­lic funds to boost their salaries and pay per­sonal ex­penses. Byrd and Coun­cil­man Fer­nando Pe­droza, the two cur­rent coun­cil mem­bers in­dicted, ve­he­mently de­nied the al­le­ga­tions.

The four coun­cil mem­bers tar­geted by the re­call ef­fort are Coun­cil­woman Leti­cia Vasquez, Coun­cil­man Al­fred­die John­son Jr., Byrd and Pe­droza. The only coun­cil mem­ber not be­ing re­called is Maria San­til­lan, who fre­quently op­poses the oth­ers on coun­cil votes.

Vasquez said the peo­ple push­ing for the re­call are failed po­lit­i­cal can­di­dates bent on wrest­ing con­trol of the city. She also said the regis­trar-recorder’s of­fice did not check the va­lid­ity of the sig­na­tures.

County of­fi­cials strongly dis­agree.

“That’s ab­so­lutely false. We check each and ev­ery one of them,” Wright said. “They’re just mak­ing that up.”

At­tor­neys for the city and for the pro­po­nents of the re­call are ex­pected to clash in court to­day.

David Ro­driguez, an at­tor­ney rep­re­sent­ing the city, said the elec­tion of­fi­cial ap­pointed by the coun­cil, Deb­o­rah Jack­son, is em­pow­ered to cer­tify the re­call elec­tion. He said that un­til the pe­ti­tions are turned over to Jack­son, the process can­not go for­ward.

Jack­son pre­vi­ously headed the city’s qual­ity of life de­part­ment, but be­fore that also worked in the city clerk’s of­fice.

Ro­driguez said that City Clerk An­drea Hooper never went through the proper process of ver­i­fy­ing the re­call sig­na­tures or plac­ing the is­sue on the City Coun­cil agenda.

Hooper did not re­turn a phone call seek­ing com­ment. But in a let­ter Mon­day to Ro­driguez, her lawyer told of Hooper’s dis­plea­sure with the coun­cil’s ac­tions re­gard­ing the re­call.

“Ms. Hooper is an in­de­pen­dent elected of­fi­cial,” the let­ter states. “She will not be ‘di­rected’ in the con­duct of her duty by you or any­one else.”

In a June 27 let­ter to County Regis­trar-Recorder Conny McCor­mack, at­tor­neys for the city crit­i­cized Hooper. “If she feels a law has been vi­o­lated, her rem­edy is to bring a le­gal ac­tion against the city. In­stead, it ap­pears that she has cho­sen to ‘ap­peal’ the city’s de­ci­sion to the county regis­trar-recorder’s fice.”

Fredric Woocher, an elec­tion law at­tor­ney rep­re­sent­ing the back­ers of the re­call, said the coun­cil’s re­ac­tion was not un­prece­dented.

Four years ago, Lynwood of­fi­cials also re­sisted a re­call, in a case against ex-Mayor Paul Richards, who sub­se­quently was sen­tenced to 16 years in fed­eral prison for cor­rup­tion.

“They’re trot­ting out the same ex­act thing,” Woocher said. ”Back then they also tried to get ac­cess to the sig­na­tures.”

Ka­reem Cray­ton, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of elec­tion law and po­lit­i­cal science at USC, said the de­vel­op­ments in Lynwood were bizarre. He said it was un­usual that the regis­trar-recorder’s wishes would be de­fied with­out an ap­par­ent le­gal ma­neu­ver.

“As far as the claims the city has made, it seems those are the sort of claims bet­ter made to a court to en­join an elec­tion from

of- hap­pen­ing,” Cray­ton said, “as op­posed to re­fus­ing to let a process laid out by the law move for­ward.”

The re­call ef­fort is just one of sev­eral launched against coun­cil mem­bers in Lynwood since the Richards sit­u­a­tion, but the first to get this far. Vasquez said an in­ves­ti­ga­tion by Ro­driguez’s firm, Strate­gic Coun­sel, pre­vi­ously found ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties in the re­call sig­na­ture-gath­er­ing process.

Vasquez said she wants the dis­trict at­tor­ney’s of­fice to in­ves­ti­gate this.

But David De­mer­jian, the head of the dis­trict at­tor­ney’s pub­lic in­tegrity unit, said th­ese prob­lems are news to him. “No one ever com­plained about that,” he said.

De­mer­jian said his of­fice looked into the re­moval of Hooper, but did not find any crim­i­nal vi­o­la­tions. His of­fice is mon­i­tor­ing the sit­u­a­tion.

hec­tor.be­cerra@la­times.com

Gina Fer­azzi L. A. Times Gina Fer­azzi L. A. Times Myung J. Chun L. A. Times Myung J. Chun L. A. Times

EM­BAT­TLED: At­tor­neys for Lynwood and for re­call back­ers are ex­pected to meet in court to­day over a plan to re­call four City Coun­cil mem­bers. From left, Mayor Louis Byrd, Fer­nando Pe­droza, Al­fred­die John­son Jr., and Leti­cia Vasquez are tar­geted for...

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