Should LA County Supervisors Have Power to Start a Sheriff? Voters will decide

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Los Angeles County voters will decide in November whether to give the Board of Supervisors the power to remove an elected sheriff from office.

The proposal, which stems from supervisors’ long-standing feud with Sheriff Alex Villanueva, would seriously undermine the autonomy that LA County sheriffs have always been given and give an extraordinary level of authority to the already powerful supervisors.

The five-member board, also elected, voted 4 to 1 on Tuesday to put a measure on the ballot that, if approved by a majority of voters, would amend the county charter to jettison a sitting sheriff. To kick out a sheriff, at least four supervisors must agree that he or she is not fit for the office.

In the November 8 elections, voters will also decide whether to re-election Villanueva, a controversial, combative leader who has repeatedly clashed with the administration during his first term in office. Villanueva faces a tough second round against retired Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna.

“Voters deserve a chance to decide if this is the right way to increase the responsibility of the sheriff and the elected sheriff and protect the lives and freedoms of the county’s residents,” Superintendent Holly Mitchell said last month when she spoke. first proposed the plan. with supervisor Hilda Solis.

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Supervisor Kathryn Barger cast the only vote against the measure on Tuesday. She has wondered why the proposal only applies to the sheriff and not the other seven elected county officials, including board members.

“I want to warn all of us that this action has wider implications than one person, as I strongly disagree with the action,” Barger said last month when the board discussed the idea. “I think it shouldn’t just apply to one chosen one [official] but for everyone—and if we’re going to do it for the sheriff, we’ll have to do it for the judge, then we’ll have to do it for the DA, and frankly, maybe this board too.”

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl objected that the extra supervision was necessary because the sheriff has an exceptional amount of power. “I don’t see the evaluator killing people,” she said. “It’s really about the ability to hold someone accountable when they’re in a very powerful position.”

In a letter last month to the board, Villanueva called the move a “cheap political stunt” intended to damage his bid for reelection. He suggested he would take up a legal challenge and said he believed the measure would be considered unconstitutional by the courts.

“The council is trying to cheat the system and create a ‘fast-track’ avenue to remove a duly elected sheriff, one that respects the law and the fundamental principles of due process, as enshrined in the Fourteenth Amendment.” circumvented,” the letter said.

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Under the proposal, the board would have the power to remove a sheriff for serious misconduct, including “blatant or repeated neglect of duties, misappropriation of funds, willful falsification of documents, or obstruction of an investigation.”

The language about obstruction is particularly relevant to the supervisors’ bad blood with Villanueva, who has repeatedly refused to appear before a civilian oversight panel when subpoenaed to answer questions about groups of deputies who allegedly resemble street gangs, and other problems in the department.

While critics of the idea argue that it is bad governance to create policies around an individual, proponents deny that it was not just Villanueva driven.

“This county charter change is not a political attack on a sheriff,” Stephanie Luna, the aunt of Anthony Vargas, who was murdered by two deputies in 2018, told the board last month. “It’s a push for the administration to intervene when a sheriff is obstructing justice and enabling a culture of violence within the department that ultimately endangers our communities.”

“We’re not asking anything silly,” she continued. “We ask that a sheriff — any sheriff who commits any kind of misconduct and obstruction — be held to the same standards we would.”

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Former county supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who said he is not a supporter of Villanueva and wants to see him beat in the polls, warned that the charter change could give Villanueva an advantage on the campaign path and help him get reelected.

“The unintended consequence could be that the sheriff could be re-elected,” Yaroslavsky said. “He will pose as the victim of a power struggle.”

LA County supervisors aren’t the first to come up with this idea.

In 2001, then-California Atty. Gene. Bill Lockyer concluded that a county charter can give the board of supervisors the power to remove the sheriff, district attorney or other county officer for any reason with a four-fifths vote.

The opinion was cited in 2005 by a California appeals court when it constitutionalized an ordinance passed by the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors that allowed them to fire a sheriff for certain reasons, including blatant or repeated dereliction of duty, misappropriation of public property, violation of a law related to the performance of the official’s function or the deliberate falsification of an official document – by four-fifths of the vote.