Lawyers for suspended councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas wrapped up their defense Wednesday, and while the veteran politician did not take the stand as a witness, two former colleagues on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors did.
Both Janice Hahn, the current chairwoman of the Board of Supervisors, followed shortly thereafter by retired supervisor Sheila Kuehl, claimed under oath that Ridley-Thomas did not incite them to support three motions that prosecutors say were tainted by a conspiracy. corrupt with a USC dean. .
“Did our client, Dr. Mark Ridley-Thomas, pressure you in any way to vote for this proposal?” he asked defense attorney Arturo González about a plan to extend a USC contract for a remote mental health clinic.
“No,” said Hahn, who was wearing a royal blue blazer with a cross around his neck. “I don’t specifically remember this motion,” Hahn said of USC’s Telehealth program. “It was something we believed in.”
There is no indictment in the case that Ridley-Thomas pressured her colleagues on the board to vote a certain way. But Hahn and Kuehl’s testimony, no more than 15 minutes long, was among a parade of mostly current or former Los Angeles County officials and officials called in to brief the jury on local government.
The internal county account was combined with testimony from Ann Ravel, a former Federal Election Commission commissioner, who said the donation of $100,000 from a campaign account through Ridley-Thomas’ USC to the nonprofit of his son was legal under California law, despite a lack of transparency about the ultimate recipient.
“It absolutely complied with the law,” Ravel said.
The defense’s goal appeared to show that the board’s three actions (for the Telehealth clinic, for a probation reentry center near USC, and a probation employee training program) were not part of a quid pro. corrupt quo with a USC dean as prosecutors allege. , but the result of a well-intentioned and mundane bureaucracy.
The testimony, in a courtroom packed with Ridley-Thomas supporters, sets the stage for closing arguments Thursday.
Karly Katona, a longtime aide who rose to chief of staff in the Ridley-Thomas City Council office, testified about an “extensive internal vetting process” of the motions her boss filed.
“He would get out his red pen,” Katona said of Ridley-Thomas reading draft motions.
Witnesses also vouched for Ridley-Thomas’ longstanding ties to USC and the depth of his political goals, especially on issues that are part of the case: mental health, probation and re-entry from incarceration.
“He really felt that people deserve second chances,” said Katona, who summed up his philosophy as: “People don’t recuperate in a cell.”
Emily Williams, a former Ridley-Thomas staffer, testified about the handling of a confidential letter from a USC dean that was personally delivered to the supervisors’ office. The letter has been a central part of the prosecutors’ case, presenting Marilyn Flynn’s requests in the alleged quid pro quo.
Williams said she recognized the letter from a 2017 meeting when Ridley-Thomas called her into her office.
“Has he called you into his office to look at letters before?” asked defense attorney Ramsey Fisher. Yes, she replied, a weekly occurrence.
Other testimony seemed to inoculate Ridley-Thomas from the emails that make up the bulk of prosecutors’ evidence. Williams was asked about an email in which Ridley-Thomas told the USC dean, “Your wish is my command” with a winking emoji.
“He used emojis on her because he used emojis on us,” Williams said, drawing laughter from the courtroom. “Sometimes she would say these pithy, concise things.”
On cross-examination, prosecutors sought to highlight the former employees’ loyalty to Ridley-Thomas, along with the limits of their knowledge.
When asked if she knew in May 2017 if Ridley-Thomas was discussing her son’s attendance at USC’s social work program with Flynn, Williams said no.
“Is that because you wouldn’t be aware of the conversations the defendant had with Marilyn Flynn?” Assistant US Attorney asked Michael Morse.
After the jury left on Wednesday afternoon, the assistant US attorney. Lindsey Dotson summed up the defense’s arc in court: “The suggestion is, ‘There’s nothing to see here, folks,’” Dotson told US District Judge Dale Fischer.
The bookend of the defense case was not Ridley-Thomas but his wife.
Avis Ridley-Thomas recounted how the couple had been dating since high school and are now married for 44 years. They have twin sons, Sebastian and Sinclair.
Sebastián’s resignation from the state Assembly and the benefits he received from USC are the crux of the accusations against her husband. Avis offered insight into this period, particularly the failing health of her son, in a quiet cadence.
“It just wasn’t right,” he said. “It was clear that he needed to do something more with his life.”
There were no questions about the full scholarship and job he received from USC or the ongoing sexual harassment investigation when he resigned.
Instead, the jurors heard, Sebastian moved in with his parents, began his master’s courses at USC, and “seemed relaxed.”
“He was taking it very easy,” Avis said.