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By Brian Hews
Hews Media Group-Community News has learned that the city of Commerce’s questionable lawsuit to remove Councilman Hugo Argumedo from office using a little known law, a lawsuit that Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Henry Barela slammed three weeks ago as “misplaced,” has cost the City over $22,000.
HMG-CN received the information after a public records request was sent to the Commerce City Clerk under the Freedom of Information Act.
The lawsuit centers around a closed session meeting on April 21, 2015 between Mayor Lilia Leon, Mayor pro tem Tina Baca Del Rio, and Councilmembers Ivan Altamirano and Oralia Reballo who voted 4-0 to initiate a “quo warranto” lawsuit against Argumedo.
The lawsuit was a culmination of several back room deals that included City Attorney Eduardo Olivo classifying a public letter, written by former Commerce Council candidate John Soria, as a closed session item to keep the lawsuit discussion away from public scrutiny.
The letter asked for a change in the city’s theft and fraud policy. Olivo and Council somehow agreed the policy should be changed retroactively to include Argumedo, and initiated the “litigation. ”
In doing so, the Council violated the Brown Act by not adequately describing the closed session item contained in the Council Agenda that was posted online in public.
Soria was a bitter rival of Argumedo and came in last place in the Mar. 3, 2015 election.
Soria had good reason to write the letter as sources told HMG-CN that if Argumedo loses the lawsuit, Soria would be endorsed by all City Councilmembers to take his place.
HMG-CN requested the “report out” of the Apr. 21 closed session meeting that stated, “in regards to [the Argumedo issue], pursuant to the advice of the City Attorney [Olivo], Councilmember Argumedo recused himself from participating in the matter due to potential conflict of interest regarding the subject matter to be discussed and the potential initiation of litigation action by the City; Councilmember Argumedo left the room. ”
The document went on to say, “Mayor Pro Tem Baca Del Rio moved, seconded by Mayor Leon, to direct City Attorney to initiate communication with the California Attorney General (AG) regarding the initiation of a “quo warranto” matter.
Quo warranto is a special form of legal action used to resolve a dispute over whether a specific person has the legal right to hold the public office that he or she occupies.
For example, a quo warranto action may be brought to determine whether a public official satisfies a requirement that he or she resides in the district; or whether a public official is serving in two incompatible offices.
Current Water Replenishment District Director and Carson Councilman Albert “Lil Al” Robles is currently embroiled in a quo warranto incompatible office lawsuit with L.A. District Attorney Jackie Lacey centered around Robles holding both the WRD seat and the Carson position.
Interestingly, and pertinent to Councilman Argumedo, quo warranto is not used to decide whether an official has committed misconduct in office.
Despite that, Councilmembers Altamirano, Reballo, Mayor Pro Tem Baca Del Rio and Mayor Leon all voted yes to initiate the now proven costly litigation.
Litigation that Judge Barela blasted saying, “there is no reason I should be haring this case.”
Barela, at the May 19 hearing, was obviously angry saying, “this motion is misplaced there’s no reason why I should be hearing anything here. I sentenced Mr. Argumedo to probation, it was clear that he could not hold office during the period of probation, which as far as I was concerned, meant that once he successfully completed probation, if he wanted to run for office that was his business. ”
Barela then questioned the attorneys, asking who was trying to keep Argumedo from holding the office.
“Was it the city? ” Argumedo’s attorney Carlos Ramirez said yes it was the city of Commerce
Barela then said, “everything is clear, probation was for three years, he finished the probation, as far as I’m concerned he properly ran, he won, he should be allowed to take the (Council) seat.”
“You (Argumedo) should sue the City.”
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