Supes hear options for removing Villanueva; Barger firm in opposition

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors learned Tuesday there are four legal options for removing county Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who has been accused of a lack of leadership and obstructing oversight, among other issues.

County Counsel Rodrigo Castro-Silva presented before the board the following possibilities: 

  • Amend the county’s charter: Get an amendment on the ballot would require public initiative or a board ordinance. It would then require a simple majority vote from residents. 
  • Recall the sheriff: This process starts with a notice of intention with 20 resident signatures filed with the Registrar/Recorder’s Office and published in a newspaper. If proponents gather sufficient signatures within 160 days and are certified as valid, the recall election can take place. 
  • Present an accusation: The sheriff must appear in court and answer to a civil grand jury accusation against him for willful or corrupt misconduct. If he pleads guilty or fails to respond, he can be convicted. If he denies the matter, a jury trial, similar to that of an indictment, is set. What constitutes willful or corrupt misconduct has not been defined. 
  • Challenge the sheriff in court: The state attorney general can file a “Quo Warranto,” which forces the removal of the sheriff after being convicted of certain crimes, such as bribery and violation of official duties. A state trial is then held and, if found guilty, the sheriff is excluded from office. 

The sheriff’s position is elected, with Villanueva’s term ending in 2022. But in order to switch the title from an elected to an appointed one, the move would require amendments to both the California Constitution and the county charter, according to Castro-Silva. 

County Supervisor Kathyrn Barger, whose 5th District includes the Santa Clarita Valley, remained firm Tuesday in her opposition to the board removing the sheriff. 

“I remain opposed to taking action to unilaterally remove the sheriff or changing policies to instead have that position be appointed. We were elected to collaborate, as servants of the public, and it’s not within our jurisdiction of this board to take voting power away from the people,” she said. “I also recognize the fact that, in some ways, the sheriff’s put us in this position, to have to make a decision like this based on some of the conduct that’s been put into play.”

Tuesday’s discussion comes after California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced a civil rights probe into the Sheriff’s Department following reported allegations of excessive force, retaliation and misconduct. The supervisors said they were committed to helping in the investigation.

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