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Bell trial jurors are read testimony again; still no verdict

Former Bell City Council members in court last month. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times

Three weeks into deliberations, jurors in the Bell corruption trial listened to more testimony read-back on Friday, but there was no indication that a verdict was close.

Six former council members in the small, working-class town are charged with misappropriating public funds by taking mammoth salaries. But jurors, who have asked several times for testimony to be read back, clearly are struggling.

On Friday, jurors listened to a testimony read-back regarding one defendant’s pay, as well as the city clerk’s testimony about slipping doctored contracts into a stack of papers to be signed by the mayor at the time.

CRISIS IN BELL: High salaries stir outrage

The panel of seven women and five men had specifically requested to hear what former councilwoman Teresa Jacobo said in her testimony about a conversation she had with then-City Administrator Robert Rizzo about working full-time for Bell.

The first defendant to testify, Jacobo said on the witness stand in February that while she was a council member, Rizzo informed her she would be able to quit her job as a real estate agent and receive a pay boost from the city.

Jurors also listened to City Clerk Rebecca Valdez’s testimony about slipping Rizzo’s doctored contracts into a stack of papers to be signed by then-Mayor Oscar Hernandez.

"The way things were run back then," Valdez testified in January, "I couldn't ask any questions."

The panel was handed the case Feb. 22, though was asked to restart its deliberations early on when a juror was removed for misconduct.

Although residents in Bell were outraged when they learned in 2010 that Luis Artiga, Victor Bello, George Cole, George Mirabal, Jacobo and Hernandez had earned up to $100,000 as city officials, deliberations have dragged out longer than expected.

During that time, the panel has had multiple questions for Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy and requested testimony read-backs that seemed to show they were struggling to determine whether the council members’ annual salaries -- drawn from serving on boards and authorities that rarely met -- were legal.

But the recent read-back request, made before jurors dismissed on Thursday, seemed to show that the panel was attempting to consider the defendants as individuals, not as a group.

Jurors had hoped Friday to also hear testimony regarding Hernandez’s ability to read and write English, but Kennedy informed them that their request was backed by no evidence shown in court.

Stanley L. Friedman, Hernandez’s attorney, had mentioned that his client had only a third-grade education received in Mexico during his opening statement. 

“You may not consider the attorney’s statements as evidence,” Kennedy instructed.

Attorneys waived their right to have the testimony read aloud in the courtroom. Instead, the court reporter read the testimony to jurors in the deliberations room.

Before leaving the courtroom, defense attorney Ronald Kaye referenced a comment Kennedy made last week that Fridays were good days for verdicts.

“Do you have the same Friday intuition, your honor?” Kaye asked. The judge and attorneys laughed.

“We’ve all learned not to speculate on this case,” said Shepard Kopp, Jacobo’s attorney.

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-- Corina Knoll

Photo: Former Bell City Council members in court last month. Credit: Irfan Khan / 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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