Saturday Forum Featuring DA Candidates & a Reconstruction of the Conviction of Mark Ridley-Thomas

DA Candidates talk at Empowerment Congress Summit
Celeste Fremon
Written by Celeste Fremon

This past Saturday, January 13, 2024, the 32-year-old organization known as the Empowerment Congress convened its annual summit attended by elected officials, community members, and other “interested constituents,” in order to discuss a selected set of  issues that affect the communities that the Empowerment Congress serves, which is generally South Los Angeles, and its neighboring cities.

This year, the Empowerment Congress, which WitnessLA attended, was divided into two distinct parts.

Part one featured a debate between Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón, and six of the eleven challengers whom Gascón will face in the March primary election. 

The challengers who pitched their case to the audience on Saturday, while aiming what were often fact-challenged barbs at the present DA, included:

*LA County Superior Court Judge, Debra Artchuleta

*Former U.S. Attorney, Jeff Chemerinsky,

*Deputy District Attorney, John McKinney

*Retired LA County Superior Court Judge, David Milton

* Head Deputy DA, Maria Ramirez

*Deputy District Attorney, Eric Siddall.

(Absent were child abuse prosecutor, Jonathan Hatami; former assistant U.S. attorney, Nathan Hochman;  prosecutor in neighboring San Bernardino County, Lloyd Masson; former prosecutor turned judge who is known around Los Angeles for the Skid Row Running Club, Craig Mitchell,  and liberal defense attorney, Dan Kapelovitz).

After the primary, if no candidate receives 50 percent of the vote, the top two of the 11 challengers plus DA Gascón will face each other in November. 

(That there will be a runoff is pretty much guaranteed given the high number of challengers who will each grab at least some percentage of the vote.)

Prior to the March primary, WLA will have much more on the race for district attorney, including interviews with DA Gascón and his main challengers.

On Saturday, however, of the six challengers present, the strongest appeared to be former U.S. Attorney Jeff Chemerinsky.

This brings us to:

Part two of the summit: a teach-in on the case of U.S.A  v. Mark Ridley-Thomas

Part 2, teach-in on the case of the U.S.A vs Mark Ridley-Thomas. Attorney Alyssa D. Bell seated at center

The candidate forum took up much of the morning. and was moderated by talk radio host Tavis Smiley and Spectrum News morning anchor, Giselle Fernandez.

Then, a bit after 11:30 a.m. part two of the event began.

Before we get to the content of part two, it helps to know that Ridley-Thomas who, until he was found guilty on March 30, 2023, of seven of the 19 counts with which he had been charged by the U.S. Government on October 13, 2021, has been the political representative of the south LA community members who made up much of the audience on Saturday, since June 1991.

1991 was the year when the long-time policy maker was first elected to public office, namely to the Los Angeles City Council.  That means he took office three months after the Rodney King beating and less than a year before the civil unrest of April 1992. 

1991 was also the year that Ridley-Thomas founded the Empowerment Congress, which in the decades since then has become a must-attend event for many local office holders, and would-be office holders, as well as civically active community members.

The enthusiasm of those attending was particularly in evidence when the audience, which included an array of college students, and parents with kids, streamed in early to make sure to find seats for part two of the event, billed as a “teach-in” on the case of the U.S.A vs Mark Ridley-Thomas

(The audience was also markedly enthusiastic to the point of cheering when MRT made some remarks to those assembled in the morning before the main program began.)

Audience takes their seats for Part 2

The teach-in
Saturday’s “teach-in,” featured attorneys and other legal experts familiar with the details of the case, who do not believe justice was served by last year’s verdict.  Over the course of the next 90 minutes they laid out point-by-point exactly why they had arrived at this conclusion.

Since WitnessLA has been reporting on the case in our ongoing eight-part series, Deconstructing the Conviction of Mark Ridley-Thomas, we were already familiar with much of the information laid out by panelists pertaining to the charges, the conviction, and the post-conviction moves made by the defense and by the prosecution.  

Yet, we were very interested to find that Alyssa D. Bell, who is a member  of MRT’s appellate team, was among the attorney/panelists for the second session.

In an upcoming story, we’ll have a lot more on what Bell had to say, both to the audience, and when we spoke to her after the event was over. 

But we were particularly interested to learn that the defense will be filing their opening appellate brief for the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals near the end of this month.

Attorney Bell told the intensely focused audience that the appellate team believes that the case that they will be presenting to the 9th will contain “blockbuster arguments.”  

More on this and the DA’s race very soon.  

So…watch this space.

Leave a Comment