A judge on Thursday denied the Fall River City Council’s request for an order that would temporarily oust indicted Mayor Jasiel F. Correia II from office.
Bristol Superior Court Judge Raffi N. Yessayan ruled that the city’s charter does not grant the council “authority to temporarily remove a mayor charged with a felony from office. Instead, the charter requires the removal of an elected official convicted of a felony.”
Correia is currently facing federal corruption and fraud allegations. He has pleaded not guilty to the criminal charges he faces.
Last month, the City Council voted to temporarily relieve him of his duties and also passed a motion that he should vacate his office by the end of the business day on Sept. 13. When Correia refused to do that, the council voted on Sept. 18 to ask a court to enforce its decision.
In his order, Yessayan said the mayor had argued that the council “has no substantial likelihood of showing that the Charter authorized the Council to temporarily remove Correia from office based upon the filing of the Sept. 5, 2019 Indictments. The Court agrees.”
A section of the city charter states that “Whenever by reason of sickness or other cause, the mayor is unable to perform the duties of the office, the president of the city council shall be the acting mayor.”
The section goes on to say that the council “by an affirmative vote of 7 members, shall determine whether the mayor is unable to perform the duties of the office.”
The City Council, according to the judge’s order, argued that the phrase “other cause” provided it with “broad discretion to remove a mayor whenever a mayor is unable to perform their duties.”
The judge disagreed.
“Read in context, the phrase ‘other cause’ does not give the Council unfettered discretion to remove a mayor,” wrote Yessayan.
Among the allegations he faces, Correia stands accused of extorting marijuana vendors. Specifically, prosecutors allege the 27-year-old Democrat pressured businesses to pay $575,000 in cash bribes in exchange for city approval.
His arrest last month came after he was arrested last October and charged with stealing more than $231,000 from investors in his tech startup and with filing false tax returns to hide the scheme.
Following last year’s arrest, Correia dismissed a chorus of calls for his resignation and survived an attempted ouster in March, when he was recalled and then reelected on the same ballot.
Last month, days after his second arrest in less than a year, Correia survived again, coming in second place in a preliminary election and earning a spot on next month’s ballot.
Correia had swept into office in 2016, promising fresh energy for the city, and supporters praise him for improving parks and reducing fees.
But his accomplishments have been overshadowed by allegations that he “turned his job into a personal ATM,” as US Attorney Andrew Lelling said in September, when he charged the mayor with using middlemen to extract bribes from marijuana vendors in exchange for letters supporting their businesses.