Judge: Fall River City Council can’t temporarily oust embattled mayor

SE Mass

FALL RIVER, Mass. (WPRI) — Mayor Jasiel Correia has won the latest legal battle with the Fall River City Council.

The council voted 8-1 last month to temporarily remove Correia, who is accused of extorting hundreds of thousands of dollars from marijuana vendors who wanted to set up shop in Fall River.

The council attempted to get a preliminary injunction to require Correia to relinquish his mayoral duties after he refused to resign from office.

Correia, who has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges against him, is arguing that the vote to remove him was illegal.

A judge denied that injunction request Thursday, determining the City Council can’t legally interpret Fall River’s city charter in a way that would allow them to oust Correia as mayor.

During a court hearing earlier this month, the judge repeatedly questioned the charter’s broad definition of the conditions under which a mayor can be removed.

The legality of the vote boils down to language in the charter which states a mayor can be removed from office due to “sickness or other cause.”

When making his decision, the judge wrote that even if he defined the term “other cause” as unclear, he still would’ve denied the injunction based on the charter’s history.

The judge cited a Charter Commission meeting from December 2016 when the language regarding the temporary removal of the mayor was discussed.

During that meeting, it was determined that a mayor could not be temporarily removed due to the City Council’s lack of confidence in the mayor. It was also determined the “other cause” meant the mayor had been “permanently disabled, either physically or mentally or no one can find him or her.”

The judge also determined the charter does not allow the council to temporarily remove the mayor from office if he is facing felony charges.

“Instead, the charter requires the removal of an elected official convicted of a felony,” the judge wrote. “If the commission intended to extend this provision to an elected official charged with a felony, such language would have been included in the charter.”

“The court will not add words to [the charter] that the [commission] did not put there, either by inadvertent omission or by design,” the judge continued, citing a case out of Somerville involving pension benefits.

Correia is seeking re-election on Nov. 5 against School Committee member Paul Coogan, who received more than 60% of the vote in last month’s preliminary election.

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