Judge orders MoVal councilman to vacate seat

RIVERSIDE – Moreno Valley City Councilman Yxstian Gutierrez will have to give up his seat in a week because he doesn’t reside within the district he was appointed to represent — at least not the way the district was originally configured — a judge ruled today.

”I believe the court misinterpreted the law,” Gutierrez said. ”While I am disappointed in today’s ruling … I have faith in our judicial system to review this case in its entirety. The trial court misapplied applicable statutory and case law, none of which directly answered the question at hand.”

Riverside County Superior Court Judge Craig Riemer ruled that by 5 p.m., Aug. 5, Gutierrez must vacate his Fourth District council seat.

The decision came following arguments at the Riverside Historic Courthouse by Gutierrez’s attorney and prosecutors from the California Attorney General’s Office representing three Fourth District residents who filed suit to have Gutierrez disqualified from holding his seat.

The plaintiffs contended that Gutierrez was not a Fourth District resident at the beginning of the term of the individual he was selected to replace — Marcelo Co.

Co resigned last August when he was federally charged with taking a $2 million bribe connected with a real estate deal. He later pleaded guilty and is slated for sentencing Dec. 15. He’s also facing unrelated state welfare fraud charges.

Co was elected in 2010, before the Fourth District’s boundaries were redrawn to reflect the last decennial census. At the time of the election, Gutierrez’s home was situated in Moreno Valley’s Third District, though it’s now considered inside the Fourth District.

The plaintiffs argued that to legitimately qualify for Co’s seat, his replacement needed to be a resident of the Fourth District at the time of the 2010 election. Riemer subscribed to that reasoning, relying he said on a basic interpretation of state law.

Gutierrez is running for the Fourth District seat in the November general election. He vowed an immediate appeal of Riemer’s decision.

”The fact of the matter is, the citizens of District Four will have the final say when they cast their vote for city council,” Gutierrez said. ”Until then, I am determined to continue to represent the residents of the district to the best of my ability, and of course as the law allows.”

Moreno Valley government has been rocked by several scandals in recent years. In addition to Co, Mayor Tom Owings came under public scrutiny for a number of questionable actions, culminating in the first-term councilman being recalled on June 3.

In 2012, then-Moreno Valley Unified School District Board of Trustees member Mike Rios was charged with multiple felonies for allegedly shooting at two men and running a call girl operation out of his home. He was convicted in the latter case last year and sentenced to 14 years in prison. He’s awaiting trial on attempted murder charges.

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