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Bell sues its former city attorney, claiming faulty legal advice

July 29, 2011 |  1:28 pm

Edwardlee

The city of Bell filed a malpractice lawsuit against its former city attorney and his two law firms Thursday, alleging that they were given faulty legal advice.

The suit contends that attorney Edward Lee provided legal advice that allowed Bell officials -- including former city Administrator Robert Rizzo and City Council members -- to receive extraordinary salaries and benefits. The suit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, also alleges that Lee gave the city poor advice regarding a variety of subjects, including business license fees and loans that Rizzo gave to employees.    

The lawsuit singles out Lee's most recent firm, Best Best & Krieger, for allegedly failing to properly advise Bell on a $35-million bond offering in 2007.

"The city attorney was responsible for preventing the abuses of power by the prior city government that left the city in its current difficult financial situation," Bell's attorney, William Stoner, said in a news release. "The lawsuit seeks to place responsibility for not protecting against those abuses of power where it belongs and obtain just compensation from those responsible."

Lee had been Bell's city attorney for 15 years, first with Oliver Sandifer & Murphy and, for the last four years, with Best Best & Krieger. He resigned from Best Best & Krieger shortly after The Times revealed that Rizzo's salary was nearly $800,000 a year.

Duff Murphy of Oliver Sandifer & Murphy said he didn't know about the suit.

BBK is a well-known firm with more than 200 attorneys in eight offices in California and Washington, D.C., and serves as city attorney for many towns.

BBK's general counsel, Richard Egger, said he had not reviewed the complaint, "however, the firm believes that it acted appropriately at all times and looks forward to vigorously defending itself."

Lee could not be reached for comment.

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-- Jeff Gottlieb

Photo: Former Bell attorney Edward Lee testifies during the preliminary hearing for Bell officials. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times

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