A judge declined Wednesday to take any immediate action in a lawsuit filed by a Los Angeles City Council candidate trying to block a former Ethics Commission president from running for the same seat due to her recent service on the volunteer panel.
Los Angeles Judge James C. Chalfant instead scheduled a March 28 hearing in the case.
City Attorney Mike Feuer’s office filed court documents Tuesday backing former Ethics Commission President Serena Oberstein’s assertion that she is eligible to run for the 12th District council seat. The lawsuit’s interpretation of the city charter is “overbroad and inconsistent with both the plain language of the charter and its legislative history,” the City Attorney’s Office argued in the documents.
Frank Ferry, a former member of the Santa Clarita City Council, filed a lawsuit Monday looking to block 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 made any decisions 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.
Feuer’s office argued in its court filing that the city charter section referenced in the lawsuit is only “meant to preclude members of the Ethics Commission from making a decision about a particular official or incumbent in office, and subsequently running against that official.”
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.
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.”
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, including a fine for a CD 12 candidate, Navraj Singh, who ran in 2011 and is now a candidate again for the same seat.
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.
“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.”
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