The California Appellate Court issued an order delaying the removal of three Mission Viejo City Council members from their seats on Thursday, a day before they would have been forced to resign.
The stay, issued by the state’s Fourth Appellate District, Division Three, invites both the city and Mission Viejo resident Michael Schlesinger to file more information by October 18 for the court to consider their final decision.
To read the stay, click here.
The stay came after OC Superior Court Judge Walter Schwarm issued a ruling earlier this month booting Mayor Wendy Bucknum and Councilmen Ed Sachs and Greg Raths from the dais, saying they’d overstayed their terms in office.
In a statement to Voice of OC, Raths praised the court’s decision to let him remain in office.
“The City of Mission Viejo will continue to operate as normal and will preserve, maintain and protect the legal rights and duties of the public, the City and those involved in its unswerving adherence to the rule of law,” Raths wrote.
Aaron Hand, Schlesinger’s lawyer, pointed out that while the council members aren’t being removed from office, the appeals court decision did not overturn Schwarm’s earlier finding.
“The finding that those three illegally held office, that has not been overturned,” Hand said in a phone interview. “The court has explicitly stated that Judge Schwarm’s finding stands at this time.”
Originally, city council members tried to implement a system called cumulative voting and ran for two-year terms on the promise the entire council would be up for election in 2020 on the new system.
But multiple California secretaries of state told the city they would not be allowed to implement cumulative voting without the permission of the state legislature, which they never got.
Instead of going back to the ballot, Bucknum, Sachs and Raths voted to extend their own terms to the standard four-year term, arguing that because no change had been made, the two-year term was invalid.
Schlesinger sued them, arguing that because they’d told voters they were going to hold a two-year seat, extending to a four-year term was illegal.
At their meeting on Tuesday night, council members delegated authority to their city manager Dennis Wilberg to run the city in their absence, but the council can reclaim that extended authority at their next meeting.
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a Groundtruth initiative. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.
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