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Bell: Appellate court rules city can seek restitution for salaries

Former Bell City Administrator Robert Rizzo appears in Los Angeles County Superior Court in February 2012 for proceedings in the criminal case against himself and former Assistant City Administrator Angela Spaccia, who are charged with misappropriation of public funds and other counts. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

A California Court of Appeal said Wednesday the state attorney general can seek full restitution against eight former Bell officials in a civil suit.

"Today marks the beginning of a new dawn for Bell and its residents," Mayor Ali Saleh said. "We are very pleased with the outcome of today's court decision."

The announcement is more bad news for five of the six former Bell council members who were found guilty Wednesday of misappropriating public funds. It also may pose a problem for Luis Artiga, the only defendant exonerated in the corruption trial, who is seeking payment from the city for his legal fees.

CHEAT SHEET: Bell corruption verdicts

Two years ago, the former officials claimed the city owed them collectively in excess of $4 million in legal defense fees, according to city officials.

Now they face well in excess of that amount in restitution claims, officials say.

That case names ex-City Administrator Robert Rizzo, his assistant Angela Spaccia, former police Chief Randy Adams, and the five former councilmembers who were convicted Wednesday: Victor Bello, George Cole, Oscar Hernandez, Teresa Jacobo and George Mirabal.

FULL COVERAGE: Bell corruption trial

Rizzo and Spaccia will both stand trial later this year.

It was initially tossed out in 2011 by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Ralph W. Dau, who said it was flawed and politically motivated. Dau said that because of legislative immunity, legislators cannot be sued for passing ordinances that award them high salaries.

The case, which sought restitution to the city of Bell for the defendants’ salaries, had been filed by then-Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown during his campaign for governor. Dau indicated he believed Brown was overstepping his authority in filing the suit.

TIMELINE: 'Corruption on steroids'

Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris later filed an appeal with the California Court of Appeal. Oral arguments were heard Tuesday.

Officials say the thrust of the Court of Appeal's decision was based on the interpretation of the city of Bell charter that limits compensation of the Bell 8 to amounts of other general law cities, counter to the prior view that the Charter allowed for excessive compensation.

ALSO:

Reaction from Bell: ‘Rizzo is next!’

L.A. Now Live: Discuss the Bell corruption trial, verdicts

Bell trial: Hours after verdicts, tensions flare at City Hall

— Ruben Vives and Corina Knoll

Photo: Former Bell City Administrator Robert Rizzo appears in Los Angeles County Superior Court in February 2012 for proceedings in the criminal case against himself and former Assistant City Administrator Angela Spaccia, who are charged with misappropriation of public funds and other counts. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

 
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L.A. Now is the Los Angeles Times’ breaking news section for Southern California. It is produced by more than 80 reporters and editors in The Times’ Metro section, reporting from the paper’s downtown Los Angeles headquarters as well as bureaus in Costa Mesa, Long Beach, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Riverside, Ventura and West Los Angeles.
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