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Court Order Sought to Stop Lynwood Recall

The city attorney will argue the case today. Critics say he is trying to thwart voters' will.

August 18, 2003|Richard Marosi | Times Staff Writer

Lynwood City Atty. James Casso is seeking a court order to stop September's recall election against Councilman Paul Richards, who has claimed that the campaign to remove him from office is marred by fraud.

Casso said he was taking the action in compliance with a city resolution requiring that all elections be fair and beyond reproach. He was scheduled to argue the case today before a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge.

But critics accuse Casso of trying to protect the councilman and using taxpayer funds to thwart the will of voters. Residents have gathered about 3,800 signatures to force the recall in the working class city in southeast Los Angeles County.

In moving to stop the special election, Casso cited a resolution passed in July by the Lynwood City Council that authorizes him to investigate fraud allegations related to the recall and pursue legal remedies if necessary. Recall proponents have been accused of using un-registered petition circulators to gather signatures.

Evidence of fraud in the gathering of recall signatures would surface in court, the city attorney said. He declined to provide more details, saying that pending litigation is confidential under the state's public meeting law. "I'm not going to discuss matters involving my client that involve anticipated or pending litigation," he said.

Casso's move, however, has been labeled by recall proponents as a secretive attempt to subvert their effort to remove Richards. Critics said any legal action regarding the hotly contested recall drive should have been discussed publicly.

They also accuse Richards of violating conflict of interest laws by voting to approve the probe and legal action in a case where his political future is at stake.

"This is an unlawful action by Richards and his buddies to prevent the vote from going forward," said Fredric Woocher, attorney for the recall proponents.

Recall supporters accuse Richards of corruption in steering contracts to relatives and having ties to officials in Compton, where some of his deals as a housing developer and attorney are under federal investigation. After verifying the signatures, the Los Angeles County registrar-recorder's office set a Sept. 23rd election date.

Richards, who is African-American, denies the corruption claims and has said he is merely the victim of a racist plot by Latino politicians and residents.

He has also denied that he had a conflict of interest in voting for the review of the recall fraud allegations, saying he took the action to protect Lynwood's electoral process, rather than his own political future.

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