A former Los Angeles City Ethics Commission president running for City Council said Tuesday a lawsuit filed by an opponent claiming she is ineligible to run for the seat is a frivolous attempt to “silence, marginalize and discriminate” against her campaign.
Frank Ferry, a former member of the Santa Clarita City Council, filed a lawsuit Monday looking to block Serena Oberstein from running in the June 4 special election to replace former Councilman Mitchell Englander, who stepped down at the beginning of the year to take a private-sector job.
Ferry’s lawsuit contends the city charter’s “revolving door” rules prohibit an ethics commissioner from running for a city office for two years following the end of the commissioner’s term if the panel has made a decision relating to the office being sought.
Oberstein stepped down from her ethics post in November 2018 after serving on the commission for roughly five years, including as its president since August 2018.
“It’s clear that the good ol’ boys club and downtown City Hall special interests are afraid of an ethics watchdog and another woman on the City Council,” Oberstein said in a statement Tuesday. “Simply put — this lawsuit is attempting to silence, marginalize and discriminate against our campaign and our movement of change because I am a working mom and a former City Ethics Commission president who will root out corruption, deliver for Valley neighborhoods and raise the bar at City Hall to rebuild the public trust. I say, bring it on.”
City Clerk Holly Wolcott was named as a defendant in the lawsuit, along with the city of Los Angeles, County of Los Angeles and Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk Dean Logan. The lawsuit seeks to remove Oberstein from the ballot.
In response to the lawsuit, Oberstein’s campaign stated that Wolcott has officially verified Oberstein’s candidacy, and according to the city charter, if there were any issues with Oberstein’s candidacy, the city clerk would not have accepted her nominating petitions.
The campaign also said California courts have consistently held that the right to seek public office is a “fundamental right.”
The statement by Oberstein’s campaign did not repeat her comments to the Los Angeles Times regarding issues surrounding her candidacy. According to The Times, Oberstein said a lawyer in the city attorney’s office had advised her the prohibition on running for office did not apply to her because ethics commissioners have an advisory role, except for approving penalties for violations of city rules.
The advice was given by that attorney in a “personal capacity,” Oberstein’s campaign consultant Maclen Zilber told The Times.
“The Ethics Commission provides an important but limited function within the city structure — they make recommendations to City Council but it’s the council that sets policy,” Oberstein wrote in an email, according to The Times.
The city charter specifically states that neither “a member of the (Ethics) Commission nor its executive director shall seek election to any city office or Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education office concerning which the commission has made a decision during the term of the commissioner or executive director unless the election for that office is to be held at least two years following the expiration of the term of office of the commissioner or executive director.”
Frank Mateljan, a spokesman for City Attorney Mike Feuer, told City News Service the office will review the lawsuit but had no immediate comment. He did not respond to questions if anyone with the City Attorney’s Office had officially or in a personal capacity offered Oberstein advice on her candidacy.
Ferry’s lawsuit states that in her five years on the commission, Oberstein voted on a number of decisions involving the City Council and candidates seeking election to the council, including an October 2018 motion recommending an increase of the amount of matching campaign funds a council candidate may receive. The motion passed, and the “same action also made it easier for candidates, including (Oberstein), to receive those campaign funds,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit also listed a number of actions the Ethics Commission had taken during Oberstein’s tenure that directly involved Council District 12, which is the seat she is seeking, including a fine for a CD 12 candidate who ran in 2011.
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