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Ruling Pleases Nobody; Everybody to Appeal

October 29, 1987|SEBASTIAN ROTELLA | Times Staff Writer

Inglewood plans to appeal a judge's decision to annul the June runoff election of City Councilman Ervin (Tony) Thomas.

So does Thomas.

And Garland Hardeman, who challenged the election in court, plans to appeal the judge's order to hold a new election rather than declare him the winner.

All parties in the acrimonious battle announced plans for further court action after Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Leon Savitch issued his written opinion this week on Hardeman's lawsuit, which alleged widespread violations of the state Election Code.

State law allows Thomas to remain in the seat during the appeal process.

Meanwhile, Mayor Edward Vincent criticized Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Leon Savitch and Hardeman's "eight white attorneys" for "scrutinizing the election of a black community."

"Judge Savitch has taken the rights away from the minority voters of Inglewood," Vincent said. "There were many things in the ruling that I know are not true." The mayor, like Thomas and Hardeman, is black.

Hardeman said: "I don't think the mayor's criticisms have any relevance whatsoever. It's a tactic that approaches gutter-level politics. He's taking the voters for granted. He's saying they aren't intelligent enough to differentiate between the conclusion of a legal battle and an issue he's raising to distract their attention from the finding that he and Thomas did something wrong."

In his written ruling released this week, Savitch upheld almost all of the allegations made in Hardeman's lawsuit, which claimed that Election Code violations were committed by Vincent and other Thomas campaign workers.

The judge threw out 58 of the 59 ballots Hardeman had challenged, almost all of them absentee votes. Among them were 14 cases alleging intimidation of voters and invasion of the secrecy of the ballot process by Thomas campaign workers.

In several of those cases, testimony implicated Vincent in Election Code violations, including three cases involving voter intimidation and invasion of ballot secrecy and another case involving invasion of voters' rights of ballot secrecy. Savitch did not find sufficient evidence to support additional charges of coercion, which had been based on testimony that Vincent and other Thomas campaign workers went into voters' homes, pressured them to vote and took away unsealed ballots.

Savitch also declared illegal the votes of Thomas' three adult stepchildren because of evidence that they were residents of Los Angeles when they cast absentee ballots using his address in Inglewood's 4th Councilmanic District.

Other grounds for eliminating ballots included ballots that listed Thomas' campaign headquarters and boarded-up houses as voters' addresses, ballots bearing signatures that a handwriting expert testified did not match ballot applications and county registration records, and ballots that evidence showed were illegally delivered to the polls by third parties after being picked up by Thomas, Vincent and other campaign workers.

Vincent and Thomas have insisted that they did nothing wrong during an aggressive absentee ballot campaign, which helped gain 395 absentee votes for Thomas, wiped out Hardeman's 70% lead in votes cast at the polls and gave Thomas a 626-to-610 victory.

Vincent said the 4th Council District has a history of low voter turnout. He described his numerous visits to voters' houses during the absentee ballot drive as efforts to "educate them to the voting process."

Savitch concluded that 31 of the 58 illegal votes were cast for Thomas, wiping out Thomas' victory margin of 16. (He said it could not be determined who the other 27 votes were for.)

Yet he rejected a motion to declare Hardeman the winner, even though Hardeman's attorneys cited Election Code section 20087, which reads: "If in any election contest it appears that another person than the defendant has the highest number of legal votes, the court shall declare that person elected."

Savitch wrote that he did not declare Hardeman the winner because a new election would be "in the best interests of the electorate."

Fred Woocher, one of Hardeman's attorneys, said he probably will file a writ asking that Hardeman be declared winner. Such a step is an expedited appeal that would focus on the judge's remedy.

"The judge gave us what we asked for and fought for, but his remedy didn't follow the law," said Hardeman, who is a Los Angeles police officer.

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