Updated 2:15 p.m.
Fall River City Council members filed a preliminary injunction Tuesday against Mayor Jasiel Correia, the latest development in an ongoing dispute over Correia’s fitness to serve in office while facing multiple federal charges.
In a statement, the council said they "filed this action to safeguard the City, its finances, residents, visitors, and businesses."
The council said that Correia, who continued to show up for work after the council voted to oust him earlier this month, "continues to flout the legal authority of the Council, and, perhaps just as importantly, acts in complete disregard for the best interests of the City and its residents."
Correia declined to comment.
“An injunction is a restraining order, it's to stop him from serving as mayor,” Northeastern professor and WGBH News legal analyst Daniel Medwed said in a phone interview. “And it’s a very unusual thing to do, but if the judge issues it and grants it then [Correia] will appeal it.”
At a preliminary election night party on Sept. 17, a week before the injunction was filed, Correia promised that if city council members took him to court, he’d fight back to keep his seat as mayor. “If they take me to court then I will bring my lawyer to the court and we'll see what the judge decides,” Correia said. “I don't believe that eight people can override the voters of an election.”
“The voters had an election in March,” he continued. “They had an opportunity sent me back to the mayor's office. And I think they're going to do that again in November.”
Correia came in second in the preliminary election and will advance to the general election in November.
He faces 24 counts in federal cases against him. He is set to go to trial after the end of his current mayoral term, which ends in January.
Earlier this month, city council members voted to approve an emergency order ousting Correia from office. The order, which Correia has largely ignored, cites a petition in the city charter that would give councilors the power to remove the mayor from office if he is “unable” to perform his duties in office.
In the order, councilors argue that multiple federal indictments filed against Correia “result in a significant and substantial breach of the public trust and cripple Mr. Correia’s ability to represent the City as its Mayor.”
Correia faces federal charges from last year, after allegedly defrauding investors in his app, SnoOwl. He also faces another set of federal charges, including extortion, tax fraud and bribery, after allegedly strong-arming marijuana vendors hoping to do business in Fall River.
Correia has refused to recognize the city council’s order, and has repeatedly cited a letter submitted last year by the city’s lawyer, or corporation counsel, that essentially says the city council does not have the power to oust the mayor, who considers the allegation that he is “unable to serve” to be inaccurate.
In response to his refusal, the city council’s lawyer Lauren Goldberg announced on Wednesday that the city council planned to move forward with litigation, hoping to push Correia out of office through legal action.
The power to determine what happens next, according to UMass Dartmouth political professor Shannon Jenkins, lies with the judge.
“They can file an injunction or a restraining order against him, but the judge has to grant that,” she said. “But I don't think a judge is going to want to get involved in adjudicating a political dispute, for the most part most judges tend to want to stay away from that.”
If the city council is successful, it would be unprecedented to remove a mayor from office before he was proven guilty of a crime, which Jenkins says would be a risky move from a judge’s perspective. “Particularly in what is essentially a political dispute at this point, I think most judges are going to be leery of establishing precedent that a city council gets to remove a mayor when the mayor is charged with something — not when he's been found guilty,” she said.