City Council vote to relieve Mayor Correia of duties heads to court

A Fall River City Council vote last month to temporarily relieve Mayor Jasiel Correia from office went before New Bedford Superior Court Thursday morning.

Correia was first arrested last year on federal fraud charges related to his SnoOwl app. But the mayor was arrested again in September for allegedly extorting marijuana businesses in Fall River out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In a special meeting, the City Council voted 8-1 to temporarily relieve the mayor of his duties while he battles the charges in federal court, but the mayor refused to step aside.

The City Council filed last week in Superior Court in hopes that a judge will validate the vote.

The legal battle comes down to the language in the City Charter that states a mayor can be relieved of his duties temporarily for “sickness or other cause.”

A judge was asked to hand down a ruling on what the other cause is supposed to be.

The city council argued that the mayor is unable to perform  his duties, as Correia has travel restrictions under his bail conditions, and cannot have contact with witnesses in his case.

Lauren Goldberg who represents the City Council said, the terms are purposely broad, and that the mayor was given a lawful order that he’s refusing to comply with.

“These terms are both broad terms and they’re both left to the discretion of the council,” Goldberg told the court.

Meanwhile, Peter Mello who represents Correia said that the Charter Commission specifically struck the condition that the council is referring to, although a conviction of a crime would automatically remove a mayor from office, lawyers explained in court.

“It was clear that this wasn’t designed to apply to some all encompassing catch-all to allow the city council to circumvent or usurp the voters’ will,” Mello told reporters after court. “The Charter Commission addressed this issue specifically and specifically rejected the interpretation that the city council has proported in this case.”

Judge Raffi Yessayan had some doubts of his own when it came to the interpretation of the charter, and peppered the Council’s lawyers with his concerns and questions.

“Broad definition and that’s my concern. Giving that broad definition to this other cause that the voters were not aware of,” Yessayan told Goldberg, referring to the vote to adopt the City Charter.

Judge Yessayan did not hand down a ruling on Thursday, and is taking the case under advisement.

Correia spoke briefly outside of court, telling reporters he had one thing on his mind during the hearing.

“I thought I had to get back to city hall to continue doing my job and thats exactly what we’re going to do at this time,” Correia said. “I look forward to the judge’s decision which I believe will be in favor of the citizens taking the vote at the ballot box. Like I’ve said the entire time, the citizens have the right to put a mayor in place or have someone else be the mayor.”

Members of the City Council including President Cliff Ponte were also present in court. 

The council did not comment outside of court, with Goldberg simply saying that they are looking forward to the judge’s decision.

If Correia is temporarily relieved of his duties, lawyers said that the mayor would still receive pay.

A date has not been announced as to when a judge will hand down the ruling.