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3 accused Bell officials want cash-strapped city to pay their legal bills

January 10, 2011 | 11:18 am

Three present and former Bell City Council members charged with public corruption are asking a judge to order the city to pay some of their legal bills.

Attorneys for Mayor Oscar Hernandez, Councilwoman Teresa Jacobo and former Councilman George Cole in court filings argue that the city should cover their legal expenses in a suit filed last year by the California attorney general's office.

Jacobo and Cole also want the city to pay their legal bills in a criminal prosecution by the L.A. County district attorney.

The legal papers were filed by lawyers for the trio in response to the attorney general's lawsuit. The current and former council members' lawyers insist that despite claims their clients took large salaries for little or no work, they did nothing legally wrong and are entitled to have Bell cover the costs.

The effort to get the city to foot the bills comes as state auditors have indicated the city's expenses are already outrunning its income, leaving Bell little alternative but to cut services and employees.

In a cross complaint filed last week, Jennifer Derwin, Jacobo's attorney, wrote that her client "is entitled to indemnification because all of the acts alleged in the civil case and criminal case occurred during the discharge of cross complainant’s duties or occurred from cross complainant’s obedience to the direction of the city, which was [her] employer.”

Jacobo became the latest elected official in the city to seek the court's help. Cole’s attorney, Ronald Kaye, in a motion filed late last month seeking relief, noted his client did nothing wrong while on the council.

“At the time of obeying the city of Bell’s directions and carrying out his duties, Mr. Cole did not believe that his actions were unlawful,” Kaye wrote.

Jacobo, 52, Cole, 60, and Hernandez, 63, along with former City Administrator Robert Rizzo, 56, former Assistant City Administrator Angela Spaccia, 52, City Councilman George Mirabal, 60, and former council members Luis Artiga, 49, and Victor Bello, 51, are charged with misappropriating public funds. The council members are accused of earning about $100,000 annually for meetings that did not occur or lasted only a few minutes.

An audit released last week said Bell was on the brink of bankruptcy.

RELATED:

Bell's finances so bad city could have trouble providing basic services

Suggestion to cut police department to stay solvent prompts political fight in Bell

Bell's auditors should have spotted most of the alleged corruption, state controller finds

-- Richard Winton

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