By Michael Bustamante
Former Los Angeles County Super visor and L.A. City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas filed a Notice of Appeal with the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on Monday, setting the stage for an appeal that will challenge his conviction and sentencing, and will likely take aim at both the manner in which the case was tried and the evidence, or lack thereof, that was presented by the prosecution.
The notice was filed on Monday, Sept. 11, with the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, setting the stage for appellate arguments that could go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The substantive brief from attorneys could take months to prepare.
According to one of Ridley-Thomas new appellate team lawyer, Alyssa Bell, the first post-sentencing issue to be resolved is whether the judge overseeing Ridley-Thomas’ case in Los Angeles federal court will grant the longtime politician bail pending appeal, allowing him to avoid the start of his prison sentence. Attorneys are expected to file their motions in the coming weeks.
“Immediately after the jury’s verdict and again following his August 28, 2023 sentencing hearing, Dr. Ridley-Thomas’s defense counsel made clear that he intended to appeal both the jury’s verdict and the sentence imposed,” said Alyssa Bell, a Partner with Cohen Williams LLP.
Bell added that the lawyers at Morrison & Foerster who handled the federal criminal trial “have laid the groundwork for what we believe to be an exceptionally strong appeal. We are already examining and analyzing several potential grounds that could result in reversal of Dr. Ridley-Thomas’s convictions.”
Attorneys for Ridley-Thomas argued during the hearing that prosecutorial misconduct, misstatements of the law and other issues during the trial ultimately deprived him of his rights.
Among other things, the defense argued that there was no evidence of a quid pro quo arrangement between Ridley-Thomas and Marilyn Flynn, a former head of the USC School of Social Work, who pleaded guilty to a bribery charge in the case.
The defense insisted there was no showing that Ridley-Thomas performed “an official act” while on the Board of Supervisors in favor of an expansion of a Telehealth contract with the county Department of Mental Health that prosecutors claim could have brought the social work school potentially millions of dollars in new revenue.
During the trial Ridley-Thomas’ lawyers also sought to show that the government’s chief case investigator, FBI Special Agent Brian Adkins, made false statements to the jury during three days on the stand touching on nearly every factual issue presented.
Ridley-Thomas also announced his appellate team yesterday – a group of experienced federal appellate and constitutional litigators with decades of experience before the Ninth Circuit including Alyssa Bell and Michael Schafler, both Partners with Cohen-Williams LLP and former Ninth Circuit law clerks; University of California Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, and former Ninth Circuit Appeals Court Judge Paul J Watford, currently a partner with the law firm of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati.
Berkeley Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, who is part of the Ridley-Thomas’ appeals team and regularly argues appellate cases, said that “we look forward to presenting our case to the Ninth Circuit. There are several grounds that we believe could warrant a reversal of his convictions or, at a minimum, a new trial.”
Ridley-Thomas served on the Los Angeles City Council from 1991-2002, then was a member of the Assembly and state Senate before being elected to the powerful county Board of Supervisors in 2008, serving until 2020, when he returned to the City Council.