An appellate court's ruling last week that upheld the annulment of a 1987 Inglewood City Council election could result in a new election as early as June, officials said. Or it could mean many more months of legal combat if the ruling is appealed by the city or by either of the candidates: Councilman Ervin (Tony) Thomas, who has held his seat for nearly two years, or Garland Hardeman, whose lawsuit resulted in the election annulment.
In a ruling issued last Tuesday, a three-judge panel of the state Court of Appeal affirmed the decision by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Leon Savitch to annul the election. Savitch had ruled that Thomas' supporters had committed Election Code violations, and he threw out 31 votes for Thomas.
That left Hardeman with more votes than Thomas. But instead of putting Hardeman on the council, Savitch said a new election should be held.
The appellate court rejected appeals by lawyers for the city and for Thomas, who argued that the election should be upheld, and an appeal by Hardeman, who said he should be declared the winner.
Hardeman, a Los Angeles police officer, said he would forgo further appeals so a new election could take place as soon as possible. He said he hoped the city and Thomas would do the same.
"I hope they don't delay by pursuing it at a higher court," he said. "I'm ready to get on with another campaign. Let the people decide."
Lawyers for Thomas and the city have 15 days to ask the appellate court to reconsider its ruling. If they do appeal, the court would have until March 30 to decide.
After that date, the only recourse is to the state Supreme Court, which is unlikely to review the case, lawyers on all sides have acknowledged. But if it did accept the case, it could be months before a hearing is scheduled, the lawyers said.
If no appeals are filed, the appellate court ruling will take effect May 1. The seat would become vacant, and city law requires a special election to be held within 120 days from the date of a vacancy.
City Clerk Anita Harris said that if any of Inglewood's six April 4 municipal races require runoffs, a new council election could be held with runoff elections in June.
Thomas' attorney Robert Stroud said last Wednesday that he and Thomas would make a decision on their next move within 10 days. Thomas called Hardeman's case "frivolous," but he reserved further comment until he could review the appellate ruling.
City Atty. Howard Rosten said further appeal by the city would require council approval. He said he would make a recommendation after reviewing the appellate court's 36-page written opinion.
In 1987, Mayor Edward Vincent and three other council members voted--with Thomas abstaining--to appeal the Superior Court decision. Vincent, Thomas' major supporter, and the other council members said an appeal was essential to protect the city's right to conduct its elections.
The city has spent more than $40,000 in legal fees to take the case to the state Court of Appeal.
Three council members will vote on the appeal since Thomas is expected again to abstain from the vote, and a vacancy exists due to the death last year of Councilwoman Ann Wilk. (That seat will be filled in the April 4 election.)
Councilman Daniel Tabor said last week that he would oppose a new appeal because it is time "to get it over with." He said voters would disapprove of further legal action because of the expense and the alleged illegal conduct during the 1987 election.
Councilman Anthony Scardenzan, who like Tabor is up for reelection April 4, said that he is leaning toward voting for an appeal. Over the past months, Scardenzan's political relationship with Vincent has improved and his one-time support for Hardeman has dissolved. But Scardenzan said the falling-out with Hardeman would not affect his vote.
Vincent's longstanding support for Thomas and rivalry with Hardeman suggests he might favor an appeal, but the mayor said last week that he had not decided because he did not know "what the alternatives are."
Vincent called Thomas "an outstanding councilman" who has worked well with the council.
"I guess the court has spoken," Vincent said. "The will of the people will come out in the end."
Other than the decision not to declare him the election winner, the appellate court decision was an overwhelming victory for Hardeman and a defeat for the city and for Thomas.
The judges praised Savitch's handling of the complex case, affirming his rulings on illegal votes and using occasionally stinging language in rejecting arguments by Thomas and the city.
For example, the written opinion by Judge Jack Goertzen chastised city lawyers for describing Hardeman's attorneys as "limousine liberals" with a patronizing attitude toward the mostly black voters of Inglewood. He called those arguments "irrelevant and offensive."