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Bell criminal hearings: Attorneys blocked from questioning former city attorney

March 7, 2011 |  7:08 pm

Defense lawyers grew frustrated Monday after being prohibited from questioning Bell’s former city attorney about conversations he had with their clients.

Attorneys representing current and former Bell officials accused of misappropriating funds were stopped numerous times in the middle of cross-examining Edward Lee because the city said it would violate attorney-client privilege.

Lee, whose contract with Bell was terminated in August, previously testified that he did not recall signing several contracts that substantially boosted former City Administrator Robert Rizzo’s salary.

On Monday he said that as city attorney he had no knowledge of Bell’s employee loan program and that Rizzo would not have been legally authorized to hand out city loans.

But when attorneys pressed Lee for details about his conversations with their clients, they were interrupted by Deborah Fox, an attorney for the city of Bell.

Judge Henry J. Hall agreed the city’s administration had the right to object to the line of questioning because of the attorney-client issue. Normally, that right would belong to the City Council, but the judge essentially stripped council members of the power to invoke or waive attorney-client privilege when he ordered them to stay away from City Hall.

Outside the courtroom, defense attorneys said in this instance Bell has a responsibility to waive attorney-client privilege. “The city should be seeking the truth rather than trying to carve out areas of secrecy,” said James Spertus, who represents Rizzo.

Stanley L. Friedman, who represents Mayor Oscar Hernandez, said that despite the lame-duck council, Bell’s administration does not have the power to instruct an attorney.

“The judge not being allowed to hear all the information is a huge glitch in the system,” he said.

Fox said the winners of Tuesday’s City Council election could vote on whether to waive attorney-client privilege.

Hall could rule as early as Tuesday whether Rizzo, his assistant and two council members will stand trial. Hall previously ordered six current and former council members to stand trial.

RELATED:

Ex-city attorney says that's not his signature on Rizzo's salary contracts

City clerk testifies Rizzo asked her to doctor his contracts

Grand jury considers new charges against Bell's Robert Rizzo, Angela Spaccia

 -- Corina Knoll

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