Bell trial: Judge declares mistrial on 10 counts, jury dismissed
This post has been amended, as noted below.
After four weeks of testimony, 18 days of deliberations and a mixed bag of verdicts, Judge Kathleen Kennedy declared a mistrial on the remaining counts and dismissed the jury in the Bell corruption trial.
"It seems to me all hell has broken loose," Kennedy said Thursday afternoon. "I'm getting the sense that the lines of comunication have broken down between each and every one of you,"
The dismissal came a day after the jury delivered verdicts of both guilty and not guilty for the so-called Bell 6, former City Council members accused of stealing public money through bloated salaries. Two others, ex-City Administrator Robert Rizzo and his assistant, Angela Spaccia, will stand trial later this year.
Minutes before the judge declared a mistrial, the jury sent two notes suggesting that talks were breaking down.
"I respectfully ask if you could please remind the jury to remain respectful and not to make false accusations and insults to one another," one note said.
A second note from a different juror suggested that they were deadlocked on the charges involving the Surplus Property Authority.
On Wednesday, ex-Mayor Oscar Hernandez, and ex-council members George Cole, Victor Bello, Teresa Jacobo and George Mirabal were convicted on multiple felony counts related to money they received for sitting on the Solid Waste and Recycling Authority. But they were acquitted on charges related to their pay from the Public Finance Authority.
The sixth defendant, former Councilman Luis Artiga, was acquitted of all the charges he faced and was dismissed from court.
Kennedy dismissed the group for lunch. When court was back in session, the drama continued.
In a cryptic note, Juror No. 7 told Kennedy he had misgivings about the deliberations, saying he "questioned myself on information that had me on a [doubt] of thing [sic] that were not presented properly."
Defense attorney Ron Kaye, who represents former Councilman George Cole, told the judge the juror's note suggested he might have been persuaded to vote a certain way. But Kennedy rejected his request to talk to the juror.
“That's done, we're not going to reopen verdicts that have been reached,” Kennedy said.
In another note, Juror No. 10 said that she believes the jury is "getting away from your instructions" and possibly misunderstanding a law on "several levels." Defense attorney Stanley Friedman, who represents Hernandez, said the comments raised the possibility of jury misconduct.
Legal expert Dimitry Gorin, a criminal defense attorney, said the late developments in the Bell trial and verdicts are out of the ordinary.
“Questions from the jury as a collective aren’t unusual, but individual questions are rare and what is happening here is highly unusual and unique,” Gorin said.
What will happen to the convicted ex-council members remains unclear.
Legal expert Troy Slaten, a criminal defense attorney, said the council members are not required to be jailed. They could instead be put on probation and perform community service.
The jury did not reach a decision on the special allegations that the defendants took property exceeding $65,000 and $100,000.
Hernandez's attorney Friedman said the verdicts so far give the defendants a chance at probation. If they are convicted of the special allegations, it would be harder for a judge to give them probation, Friedman said.
"So we are hoping for probation, but we will obviously appeal," Friedman said.
[For the record, 5:07 p.m., March 21: The headline and story incorrectly stated that the judge declared a mistrial on 42 counts. She declared a mistrial on 10 counts.]
— Richard Winton, Corina Knoll, Ruben Vives and Kate Mather
Photo: Five former Bell City Council members were found guilty Wednesday of stealing public money by paying themselves extraordinary salaries in one of Los Angeles County's poorest cities. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times