A state court of appeal today soundly renounced a law designed to give
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa substantial authority over the Los Angeles
Unified School District. The ruling is the second -- and perhaps final
-- blow to what was once the centerpiece of Villaraigosa's education-reform plan.
Today's unanimous decision, by a three-judge panel of the 2nd District
Court of Appeal, found the law, Assembly Bill 1381, unconstitutional --
and it was not a close call, in the view of the justices. In its one-paragraph
conclusion, the justices gave particular importance to the revised Los
Angeles City Charter that was approved during the term of then-Mayor Richard
Riordan. That charter revision reaffirmed the election of school-board
members with authority to govern the school district, in the view of the court.
"The citizens of Los Angeles have the constitutional right to decide
whether their school board is to be appointed or elected," the justices
wrote. "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
The ruling was released this morning and the mayor's office declined
An attorney for the school district, however, characterized the ruling
as "strong and deserving."
"The court focused on the two issues that we have been focused on
all along: that this takes away control over the Board of Education from
the voters and gives that control to the mayor," said Fredric Woocher,
an outside counsel representing L.A. Unified and other allied parties
in the suit.
If the mayor's side decides to appeal, as expected, the state Supreme
Court has the option of accepting or declining to hear the case. Woocher
said he expects the strong wording of the appellate court's ruling
to make Supreme Court intervention less likely.
"This opinion is now strong enough," Woocher said. Including
the trial court judge, "we've now had four judges look at this
and all of them agree. I would certainly hope that the mayor can now move
in a new direction toward a true partnership."
In fact, in the wake of the litigation, Villaraigosa has pursued an alternate
strategy. He has concentrated in recent months on raising money to elect
a friendlier school-board majority. The fruits of that effort will become
clear in a runoff election in May.