Los Angeles Times

Ridley-Thomas files suit to restore pay

- By David Zahniser

Los Angeles City Councilman Mark RidleyThom­as 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, RidleyThom­as 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 RidleyThom­as’ 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 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 RidleyThom­as was found to be not guilty or if 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, his chief of staff, Heather Hutt, is serving as the district’s temporary nonvoting caretaker.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States