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Times Investigation: Vernon spends big on attorneys

January 22, 2011 | 11:53 am

A Times review of records show that the city of Vernon has spent more than $54 million on lawyers in the last five years.

Vernon's billing records were obtained by The Times through the California Public Records Act. The documents indicate that of the city's total legal bills since 2005, about $42 million went to private firms, while the rest went to the city's in-house legal department. The records do not break down what specific legal services the attorneys provided. By comparison, Long Beach spent $27 million on outside firms during that period. According to a report by The Times' Sam Allen and Hector Becerra:

The high level of spending has allowed Vernon to gather an army of legal talent that city officials deploy to protect their unusual municipality -- a largely industrial city south of downtown Los Angeles with fewer than 100 residents. Officials are counting on that legal acumen to help defeat a bill in the state Legislature that would disincorporate Vernon, putting its territory under the jurisdiction of Los Angeles County.

But now, the legal bills are threatening to become a liability. Critics, including Assembly Speaker John Pérez, argue that because the handful of people allowed to live in the city are beholden to city government, it cannot have proper checks and balances. They say Vernon is essentially run for the benefit of its officials and their allies. Large sums paid to the city's lawyers have been among the evidence critics cite.

Read the full investigation here.

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-- Sam Allen and Hector Becerra

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