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LA County Supes Are Given The Legal Options For Removing Elected Sheriff

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva at the graduation ceremony for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Academy on Jan. 4, 2019. (Kyle Grillot for LAist)
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Last Fall, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors directed its lawyer to figure out how Sheriff Alex Villanueva could be impeached or removed, citing eroding community trust and their ongoing battles with him over transparency, accountability, deputy misconduct and other issues.

Today the supervisors got a report back on those options, although it’s not clear they’ll act on any of them.

County Counsel Rodrigo Castro-Silva said there are four possibilities:

  1. Amend the county charter. “The California Constitution allows a county charter to provide for the removal of an elected sheriff, as well as other elected officers. And the attorney general has given an opinion that a county charter may grant a board of supervisors the authority to remove a sheriff for cause by a four-fifths vote,” Castro-Silva said.
  2. Recall the sheriff. “The California Elections Code establishes the specific procedures for placing on the ballot the recall of an elected official, including the sheriff,” he said.
  3. A civil grand jury lodges an accusation of willful or corrupt misconduct that leads to a jury trial and conviction.
  4. The state attorney general — or a private party with the AG’s permission — files an action challenging the sheriff’s right to continue to hold office, which would lead to a trial.

The sheriff, who was elected to his seat in Nov., 2018, passed the halfway point in his four-year term last month.
Supervisor Holly Mitchell said just increasing oversight of Villanueva “will never be enough without good faith cooperation and collaboration from the sheriff, and in the absence of that, I believe we have a responsibility to act.”

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But it’s unclear if the supervisors will act. The board accepted the county counsel’s report, but none of the supervisors offered a motion for further steps.

Villanueva phoned in to the board meeting and talked about what he called a well-funded, nationally-coordinated effort to delegitimize law enforcement.

“People are tired of political attacks and spin, it doesn’t make their lives any safer,” he said. “They would be more encouraged to see us work together to defeat the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and violence.”

Mitchell and other supervisors called attention to the news that California’s Department of Justice has opened a wide-ranging civil rights probe into the Sheriff’s Department. Mitchell called the announcement “alarming” and “an embarrassment.”

Supervisor Kathryn Barger said she remained opposed to taking action to unilaterally remove the sheriff, adding, “it’s not within our jurisdiction of this board to take voting power away from the people.”

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