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Bell corruption trial: Jury deliberates for a seventh day

March 4, 2013 | 11:44 am

Jurors continued deliberations Monday in the Bell corruption case after a week in which discussions were slowed by an apparent deadlock and one juror who was removed from the panel for misconduct.

When attorneys in the case were summoned to court Thursday, it appeared that jurors weighing the fates of six former council members were at an impasse.

"Your honor, we have reached a point where as a jury we have fundamental disagreements and cannot reach a unanimous verdict in this case," read a note sent to Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy.

CRISIS IN BELL: High salaries stir outrage

The note said, "No further discussion can change that."

But then Kennedy received word that one member of the panel -- identified only as Juror No. 3 -- had consulted outside advice. The same juror had made a tearful request earlier that week to be removed from the panel because she felt others were picking on her.

On Thursday, Juror No. 3 was called into the courtroom. She told Kennedy she had gone onto a legal website to look up jury instructions and then asked her daughter to help find a definition for the word "coercion."

At one point, the juror broke into tears and said she had spoken with her daughter about "the abuse I have suffered." She said her daughter told her, "Mom, they're trying to find the weak link."

The juror started to tell the judge which way she was leaning in the case, saying she had gone online "looking to see at what point can I get the harassment to stop. ... How long do I have to stay in there and deliberate with them when I have made my decision that I didn't think there was —"

Kennedy cut her off before she could finish.

The woman clasped her hands over her mouth and said, "I'm sorry.”

Although all but one defense attorney requested that the woman remain on the panel, Kennedy said the juror needed to be removed. “She has spoken about the deliberations with her daughter, she has conducted research on the Internet, and I’ve repeatedly, repeatedly throughout this trial -- probably hundreds of times -- cautioned the jury not to do that,” the judge said.

The juror was dismissed and replaced with an alternate who sat in the jury box during the four-week trial but did not take part in deliberations.

Kennedy instructed the panel to act as if the nearly five days of earlier deliberations had not taken place.  

The case against Luis Artiga, Victor  Bello, George Cole, Teresa Jacobo, Oscar Hernandez and George Mirabal went to the jury shortly before noon on Feb. 22.

Jurors are deciding whether it was legal for the defendants to receive salaries as high as $100,000 annually, boosted by pay for serving on city boards that did little, if any, work.

Defense attorneys argued their clients worked tirelessly for Bell and that the few minutes they spent at the board meetings did not reflect their efforts outside City Hall helping residents of one of the poorest cities in Los Angeles County.

They said the salaries were approved in open meetings and that neither the city attorney nor independent auditors had flagged them as being a problem.

The case is the first chapter in a broader prosecution of alleged municipal corruption in which authorities contend the city's then-chief executive -- Robert Rizzo -- dipped into the city treasury by paying huge salaries, loaning city money and padding retirement accounts, at a time when the city's finances were starting to crumble.

The trial of Rizzo and Angela Spaccia, the assistant city administrative officer, is expected later this year.

-- Corina Knoll and Jeff Gottlieb

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