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De la Torre Has Conflict in Voting Rights Suit, Judge Rules
By Jorge Casuso
July 23, 2021 -- A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge issued a tentative ruling Friday that effectively bars Councilmember Oscar de la Torre from participating in Council deliberations on the voting rights lawsuit against the City.
If the ruling issued Friday morning by Judge Richard L. Fruin, Jr. is made final, it would likely puts an end to any potential settlement before the California Supreme Court decides the case, which was filed in 2016 by de la Torre's wife, Maria Loya, and the Pico Neighborhood Association he headed.
The Superior Court lawsuit filed by de la Torre challenged the Council's January vote to disqualify him from "participating in or attempting to influence, discussions or decisions relating to this litigation" because he has a "common law" conflict of interest.
Fruin's ruling does not grant a demurrer, as the City requested, and it allows the plaintiff to amend the complaint.
In Friday's seven-page tentative ruling, Fruin agreed with the City that "the decision whether to disqualify Plaintiff 'was a determination properly made by the City Council," which had the authority to do so.
The judge also found that the Council's decision that de la Torre "had a disqualifying conflict of interest" was correct and that he was "properly excluded from participating in meetings in which the (voting rights) litigation was discussed."
The decision comes less than one day after de la Torre failed to have the Council reverse its January decision to disqualify him.
City Attorney George Cardona advised Mayor Sue Himmelrich that as the presiding officer she could invoke a Council rule that requires a member on the losing side of a vote to wait one year before bringing the item up for reconsideration.
Himmelrich did so, but de la Torre made a motion to override her ruling, triggering a vote by the Council.
His two fellow "Change" slate Councilmembers elected last November -- Phil Brock and Christine Parra -- joined de la Torre.
In her first significant vote, Councilmember Lana Negrete, who was appointed to the Council with the backing of the three Change members, voted against overriding Himmelrich's ruling.
De la Torre's motion, which required five votes, failed, effectively ending the meeting and barring any further discussion of the item.
De la Torre, however, tried to use the meeting's adjournment to state his position.
"I'd like to adjourn this meeting in memory of all of the people who have fought to have representation and fairness --"
"The meeting is adjourned," Himmelrich said.
The screen image froze as music kicked in, followed by a snippet of audio -- "It's baked, and it becomes like a cake only it's made out of fish," a voice said -- before the music resumed.
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