|Home||Special Reports||Archive||Links||The City||Commerce||About||Contacts||Editor||Send PR|
Judge Rejects City's Motion to Dismiss de la Torre's Case
October 5, 2021 -- (UPDATED) A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge on Thursday rejected the City's motion to dismiss a case filed by Councilmember Oscar de la Torre claiming he does not have a conflict of interest in the voting rights lawsuit against the City.
The ruling issued by Judge Richard L. Fruin, Jr. -- which was made after the plaintiff amended his lawsuit -- paves the way for a trail court hearing whose date has not yet been determined.
Fruin's ruling comes after he had issued a tentative decision on July 23 finding that de la Torre had a conflict of interest in the voting rights case and that the City Council in January had "properly" disqualified him from participating in related deliberations.
In Thursday's ruling, Fruin said he had "sustained the earlier demurrer improvidently" ("De la Torre has Conflict in Voting Rights Suit, Judge Rules," July 23, 2021).
"Plaintiff de la Torre does not have a personal stake in that litigation but voices a point of view that is contrary to the majority of the councilmembers," Fruin wrote.
"These differing views are to be resolved in a fair political process.
"The City's actions to exclude the participation of a councilmember who campaigned in support of the plaintiffs in the CVRA litigation thwarts the political process and raises an actual controversy for judicial determination," Fruin wrote.
On Tuesday, City officials issued a statement saying they disagreed with the Court’s denial of the demurrer.
"The City will now proceed to trial," the statement said. "We will continue to represent the City’s best interests, which remain the same as before -- that councilmembers must be impartial and loyal to the City of Santa Monica, both in fact and in appearance.
"The City maintains its position that Councilmember de la Torre has a common law conflict in the case," the statement said.
"Councilmember de la Torre cannot participate in the City’s deliberations and closed session discussions related to the voting rights case until there is a final Court order directing the City to include him in such matters."
Fruin's decision to reject the City's motion for a demurrer comes as the voting right's lawsuit filed more than five years ago is before the California Supreme Court.
If Fruin maintains de la Torre has no conflict, he could order the City to include de la Torre in deliberations on the lawsuit filed by his wife, Maria Loya, and the organization he previously headed.
De la Torre's participation would likely lead to a Council vote on whether to end the lawsuit, a decision that would likely be decided by Councilmember Lana Negrete.
In his ruling Thursday, Fruin also addressed the City's reference to a 13-year-old opinion by former Attorney General Jerry Brown stating that where there is a common law conflict of interest, an official "may not take part in either in a discussion nor in a vote on the relevant matter"
Fruin wrote that the City's argument based on that opinion "isn't helpful, as it doesn't say anything about whether the official can attend without participating in the discussion or voting."
De la Torre filed the lawsuit on March 3 after the City Council voted in January to bar him from Council meetings, discussions or decisions pertaining to the voting rights case ("Councilmember Sues City Over Conflict of Interest Decision," March 19, 2021).
De la Torre welcomed Thursday's decision and said that if the judge rules he can participate he expects the Council to revisit whether to stop fighting the voting rights lawsuit.
"It's a good turn of events," de la Torre said of Thursday's decision. "We challenged the City and legally ended up in a good position.
"This will lead to a stronger democracy and more transparency in government," he said.
|copyrightCopyright 1999-2021 surfsantamonica.com. All Rights Reserved.||Disclosures|