LANCASTER — California Attorney General Rob Bonta granted the City of Lancaster’s request to sue Michael Rives in quo warranto to oust him from the Antelope Valley Healthcare District Board of Directors, saying, in part, that allowing the City to sue Rives would serve the public interest, according to the 12-page opinion.
Quo warranto is a special form of legal action used to resolve a dispute over whether someone has the legal right to hold the public office he occupies. The City is also seeking a $5,000 fine and the award of attorneys’ fees.
Rives won election to the AV Healthcare District Board and Antelope Valley Community College District Board of Trustees in the same November 2020 election.
“I am not going to resign,” Rives wrote an in email response to Bonta’s opinion. “I am not going to let a bunch of lawyers nullify an election when I haven’t done anything. I have served now for seven months and there has not been one comment publicly about me serving from any Board member on either Board.”
Lancaster sent Rives a letter dated Dec. 18 and signed by Mayor R. Rex Parris stating a concern that Rives is simultaneously serving as a member of both Boards. The letter asked Rives to resign from the hospital Board by Jan. 3 or face legal action to remove him.
According to Government Code Section 1099, “(w)hen two public offices are incompatible, a public officer shall be deemed to have forfeited the first office upon acceding to the second.”
Since Rives was sworn into office for the AV Hospital Board three days before he took the oath of office for the AV College Board, he would have to forfeit the first office upon acceding to the second, according to the law.
“There are substantial questions of law and fact as to whether membership on the Antelope Valley Healthcare District Board of Directors and the Antelope Valley Community College District Board of Trustees are incompatible public offices, thus requiring Rives to forfeit his first-held office on the Healthcare District Board of Directors,” Bonta wrote. “Consequently, and because the public interest would be served by allowing the action to proceed, the application for leave to sue in quo warranto is granted.”
Parris said Friday in a text message he expected that the city would file the suit early next week, possibly Monday.
“It is essential to the health of the community that AV Hospital be able to freely contract with Antelope Valley Community College,” he said. “Mr. Rives being on both Boards makes this illegal. The California Attorney General, the. City of Lancaster, the City of Palmdale and Antelope Valley Hospital have all asked him to obey the law and resign. He refuses. This leaves us with no choice but to seek judicial intervention.
“It is an unfortunate waste of resources brought about by Mr. Rives’ inability to understand simple concepts.”
Rives’ colleagues on the AV Healthcare District Board supported the City’s position without his participation.
Dr. Abdullah Farrukh, chairman of the AV Healthcare District Board of Directors, sent a letter dated Jan. 28 to Lancaster City Attorney Allison Burns stating the Healthcare District provided its support and approval for the City to move forward with the quo warranto lawsuit, according to the letter.
Note 45 in Bonta’s opinion referenced the letter.
“While the subjective views of either Board are not material to our determination of incompatibility, it is evident that granting the City leave to proceed in quo warranto will facilitate the settlement of a divisive issue that otherwise threatens to impede the work of the Healthcare District Board, to the prejudice of the public interest,” he wrote.
Lancaster asserts that AV Healthcare District provides healthcare services to the community, including to AV Community College District. The hospital and the college contract with each other to engage in mutual programs, including but not limited to a “School Affiliation Agreement,” which provides for the clinical training of AV College nursing students at AV Hospital facilities, using the personnel and materials, according to the opinion.
The City included an authenticated copy of the agreement between the hospital and the college. The contract will expire — presumably subject to renegotiation — on June 30, 2023, during Rives’ tenure on the two contracting Boards if his dual office holding were to continue.
“In our view, the possibility of a future contract renegotiation is, in itself, enough to demonstrate an instance of incompatibility,” Bonta wrote. “Evidence of an actual ‘past or present conflict in the performance of the duties of either office’ is not required for a finding of incompatibility; rather, it is sufficient that a conflict may occur ‘in the regular operation of the statutory plan.’ ”
Rives noted in his email that the AV Community College District boundaries stretch into Kern County.
“The healthcare District stops at the county line,” he wrote. “The healthcare District does not have a legal relationship with the community college to accept nursing students for training. They refused to admit them during COVID and the students went to Palmdale Regional and Kaiser.”
Rives does not have an attorney.
“I am a low-income senior. I can’t afford one,” he wrote.
He added: “This is not about me being on both Boards. It is about money. Some people want me off the hospital Board because I will thwart their plans to spend millions on property and buildings while the rich and investment companies will make millions on tax-free interest bonds while we scrimp and save to pay them. I will never let the public be duped by the rich and powerful.”
Bonta’s opinion also addressed Rives’ allegations of multiple conflicting interests involving officials of the City of Lancaster and members of the Healthcare District Board.
“We presume these allegations are meant to impugn the City’s motives in pursuing this action,” Bonta wrote. “But whatever the merits of these unsworn allegations, they are irrelevant to our concern here: whether a quo warranto proceeding is warranted to resolve the question whether Rives may lawfully hold both of the offices at issue here.”