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De la Torre Has No Financial Conflict of Interest in Voting Rights Case, FPPC Says

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By Jorge Casuso

February 4, 2021 -- The State's political ethics watchdog on Thursday advised the City that Councilmember Oscar de la Torre does not have a financial conflict of interest in the voting rights lawsuit against Santa Monica.

The advice from the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) comes after the City Council determined in a 4 to 2 vote last Tuesday that de la Torre has a conflict of interest that bars him from participating in closed door sessions pertaining to the case.

The advice, however, did not address whether the newly elected Councilmember has a common law conflict of interest, as the City contends ("Council Votes to Exclude de la Torre from Closed Sessions on Voting Rights Case," January 26, 2021).

The lawsuit was filed by de la Torre's wife, Maria Loya, and the Pico Neighborhood Association (PNA), where he served as a Board member.

In Thursday's letter the FPPC advised the City that de la Torre "does not have a disqualifying conflict of interest" under California's Political Reform Act "in future City Council decisions" related to the lawsuit.

The agency also advised that "neither he nor his spouse has any financial interest, direct or indirect, in the outcome of the lawsuit, including any future settlement agreement.

"There is no obligation on the part of him or his spouse to pay any attorneys’ fees or costs in connection with the litigation," wrote the FPPC's General Counsel Dave Bainbridge.

There is also "no arrangement under which any portion of any recovery from the City of attorneys’ fees or costs would flow to him or his spouse," Bainbridge wrote.

The letter, however, does not address whether there is a "common law conflict of interst," which the City has cited as the main reason to exclude de la Torre from discussions and decisions pertaining to the lawsuit

"Please note that we are only providing advice under the Act and Section 1090, not under other general conflict of interest prohibitions such as common law conflict of interest," the letter states.

City officials -- who generally agree that De la Torre has no financial interest in the case -- said Thursday they stand by their original position.

"The common law conflict is the result of Councilmember de la Torre’s personal relationships with the two plaintiffs in the case," the City said in a statement, referring to Loya and the PNA.

De la Torre said Thursday that he will file a lawsuit in Superior Court to determine whether a common law conflict of interest exits.

"It's promising that the FPPC gave the advice that they gave," he said. "We need an unbiased authority without the conflicts of (City Attorney George) Cardona and the City Council.

"I will seek a higher authority and abide by whatever advice they provide."

De la Torre's participation in the Council's decisions could determine the fate of the nearly five-year-old voting rights lawsuit that has wound its way up to the California Supreme Court ("Supreme Court Takes Up Voting Rights Lawsuit," October 21, 2020).

The other two challengers elected to the Council on November 3 -- Phil Brock and Christine Parra -- have also expressed support for voting districts proposed by the plaintiffs ("New Council Could Have Votes to End Voting Rights Lawsuit," November 12, 2020).

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