The Los Angeles City Council voted Wednesday to reinstate the salary of indicted Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas, more than a year after he was suspended from his post while facing federal corruption charges.
Ridley-Thomas, who has been stripped of his duties for nearly 14 months, will receive about $265,000 in city pay, much of it back wages, and another $99,500 for his lawyers. The deal was approved by a 10-1 vote, with Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell opposed.
The agreement means taxpayers will be compensating two council members from the same district simultaneously — Ridley-Thomas, who was elected to the seat in 2020, and Heather Hutt, who was selected by the council to serve the district on a temporary basis three months ago .
City Controller Ron Galperin held the pay of Ridley-Thomas in October 2021 after the council member was suspended by his colleagues in the wake of the indictment. Ridley-Thomas sued the city over that move earlier this year, saying it violated the City Charter and was politically motivated.
Prosecutors have accused Ridley-Thomas of conspiring with a USC dean to steer county money to the university in return for USC admitting his son Sebastian into its graduate school with full tuition and a paid professorship. Ridley-Thomas pleaded not guilty to bribery, conspiracy and fraud in the case stemming from his time as a member of the LA County Board of Supervisors.
Ridley-Thomas, whose district stretches from Koreatown to the Crenshaw Corridor, will continue to receive his salary even if he remains suspended from his post. His trial is set for March and Hutt continues to represent the district.
Crystal Nix-Hines, a lawyer for Ridley-Thomas, said she and her client were pleased with the settlement, which will bring an end to his lawsuit.
“It is very clear under the City Charter that the controller had no authority to terminate the salary and benefits of Councilmember Ridley-Thomas and Controller Galperin did so at a time when Councilmember Ridley-Thomas needed them the most to mount his legal defense,” she said. “Controller Galperin’s actions are indefensible.”
Galperin, who leaves office at the end of the week, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In 2020, he said he would not compensate an elected official who was “legally unable to do his job.”
Lawyers for City Atty. Mike Feuer had recommended the council approve the negotiated settlement.
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Wednesday’s legal settlement has the potential to open the door for another legal challenge — this one by former Councilmember Jose Huizar, who is also facing federal corruption charges.
Like Ridley-Thomas, Huizar has pleaded not guilty. And like Huizar, he had his pay halted by Galperin shortly after being suspended by his colleagues. Huizar’s case, which covers a sprawling series of racketeering and bribery charges, heads to trial next year.
Huizar left office in December 2020 due to term limits, after going nearly six months without his city salary.
Council members earn more than $229,000 annually. In his lawsuit, Ridley-Thomas said he has been unable to pursue outside work during his suspension, since the City Charter bars elected officials from receiving an outside income.