From the jury pool: Many have only vague memories of Bell coverage
Acting as a team, defense attorneys for six former Bell council members on Tuesday pooled their individual time to question potential jurors in the sweeping corruption case.
The former city leaders are charged with paying themselves extravagant salaries for their part-time jobs and driving up their paychecks by drawing stipends for work on boards and commissions that rarely, if ever, met.
Attorneys attempted to gauge any preconceived notions about the case. Some jurors said they knew nothing about the defendants and the charges against them while others said they were only vaguely familiar with the city of Bell. Still, few seemed to have a good understanding of the case.
"When I read about this it was a really long time ago and I don't really know all the details," said one woman.
She said she had been outraged by former city administrator Robert Rizzo and felt city officials had neglected to do their duty, but couldn't remember much else. Rizzo and assistant city manager Angela Spaccia will stand trial at a later time.
"I don't know the names and I don't remember the details so, no, I don't have an opinion of the people sitting here," the potential juror said.
Those who said they had read news accounts of the defendants in the news were pressed for their reaction reaction.
“I thought oh my God, they did something wrong,” said one woman when asked about her initial response.
Defense attorney Ronald Kaye replied, “That’s the media, that’s the L.A. Times. Do you think the L.A. Times got it right?”
Some people who had worked in local government or with government officials said they couldn’t help but contrast the defendants with their own colleagues who they couldn’t imagine would even be accused of such a crime. One woman from Torrance said she held her City Council members in the highest regard.
“I feel like white-collar crime gets off more easily because most of the time they have more money for a lawyer and it’s considered not technically hurting somebody,” said another potential juror.
One man said he had been a public employee for nearly three decades and had an "extremely negative, emotional response" to the news about Bell and couldn't promise he wouldn't have the same reaction during the trial.
Still, nearly all the jurors said they had the ability to be impartial.
Several jurors mentioned Rizzo by name but said that was the extent of their knowledge and that they did not know the defendants in the courtroom.
“All I heard about was Rizzo. I don’t even know if he’s been on trial,” said one man
Attorneys made sure to distinguish their clients from Rizzo in their questioning.
One woman seemed to sum up jurors' sentiments:
“To be honest I haven’t paid very much attention. I just kind of dismissed it and, lo and behold, here I am.”
-- Corina Knoll