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His Honor's appeal

April 19, 2007 |  5:24 pm

Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa paid us a visit this morning, scorching the Times for its tepid reception to his State of the City address, and providing some more detail on his plans to keep hope alive for AB 1381, the state school-takeover law that has now been struck down and struck down again by the courts. The mayor has vowed to keep fighting, and in his comments to the editorial board today, he outlined his own legal theory on how the decision could be appealed to the California Supreme Court:

ARV: This is what was amazing about their [the California 2nd District Court of Appeal's] opinion: They said all we had to do was a charter change. That just isn't true. They [the plaintiffs, including the L.A. Unified School District] didn't base the lawsuit on the [city] charter; they based it on the [state] constitution. We have to change the constitution statewide, and that's what they said in their opinion. It was amazing, how clearly they didn't understand the essence of this. Some argue that in addition to changing it in the constitution we also have to change it in the charter. We're not completely sure of that because some lawyers say you just have to change it in the constitution, but no lawyer has said you don't have to change it in the constitution.

LAT: Because the district crosses the city limit?

ARV: No. The whole basis of the lawsuit was that the constitution says there's a bifurcation of governance. So we would either have had to do just state or state-and-charter, but not just charter. And hitting your point, if we just change our charter, what about those other 27 cities? So that was another complication. I'm not a lawyer here; I don't understand that. The only thing I did understand as soon as I went through the opinion was that they just completely missed the whole point.

Here's the text of the 2nd District's ruling in Mendoza v. State of California:

The citizens of Los Angeles have the constitutional right to decide whether their school board is to be appointed or elected. If the citizens of Los Angeles choose to amend their charter to allow the Mayor to appoint the members of the Board, such amendment would indisputably be proper. What is not permissible is for the Legislature to ignore that constitutional right and to bypass the will of the citizens of Los Angeles and effectively transfer many of powers of the Board to the Mayor, based on its belief, hope, or assumption that he could do a better job. The trial court’s order granting the writ prohibiting the enforcement of the Romero Act in its entirety must be affirmed.

Is that enough to hang an appeal on? Here's the mayor's own assessment:

LAT: Have you made any decision about whether to appeal the decision?

ARV: We've got great lawyers, and we're making the legal assessment. But I think right now our own lawyers, and also experts we're talking to, say it's a pretty uphill fight. They [the state supreme court] don't have to take the case, and this is a court, as you guys have written in your reporting, that has historically been kind of reluctant to do so... As I said last night, I'm not quitting.  I am passionate about this issue. Which is why I take so much umbrage about your editorials on it, because I am passionate about these kids. And people can say what they want, but what we have now is that everybody agrees we need reform. And while there's not the urgency, they're responding, and they are because I put the heat on them. Lexis search it: You can't find one press conference where I called a person a name. I don't criticize the council and school board members. I talk about the institution and the bureaucracy; I never talk about individuals. I don't even do that with people I don't like. It's just not my nature.

We haven't made an assessment about whether we're going to appeal. We very well may. But obviously, we're moving ahead with the school board elections. I hope to be successful there. And very importantly, trying to engage in some very concrete discussions with the school board about implementing much of what was in AB 1381.

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