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Bell trial: Judge’s note to jury a setback, defense says

March 21, 2013 | 11:53 am

A juror sent the judge in the Bell corruption case a note that showed panel members were struggling with counts surrounding the pay council members received for serving on the Bell Community Housing Authority.

The juror's note, which Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy read in court Thursday, asked whether there was any other state law regarding the Housing Authority.

Kennedy said she would tell jurors that state law says housing authority members can be paid for four meetings a month at the rate of $50 a meeting. The jury is deadlocked on 21 counts related to the Housing Authority.

CHEAT SHEET: Bell corruption verdicts

"There is no other state law providing for compensation for the Community Housing Authority," she said she would respond.

Her answer is a setback for the defense attorneys who had argued that their clients could receive additional pay from the housing authority for work they performed outside meetings. The judge asked jurors to resume deliberations on the deadlocked counts.

Stanley L. Friedman, the attorney for defendant Oscar Hernandez, said that calling the decision a setback "was rather a mild term."

FULL COVERAGE: Bell corruption trial

Kennedy did not buy the defense argument during the often-heated court hearing. "I reject that for the housing authority," she said. "The state law governs the housing authority and the housing authority has a specific statute that says what the compensation is."

Ron Kaye, the attorney for defendant George Cole, said that in a deposition he took from the former Bell city attorney, Edward Lee said that the pay council members received for the boards was legal, including the salaries for the housing authority. Kaye said that if he had known how the judge would instruct they jury, he would have called Lee to the stand.

"We have a critical witness that would have testified that this was not illegal and the limitation of $50 a month would not control in this context," Kaye said.

Kennedy said that attorneys made a strategic decision not to call Lee to the stand.

"For some reason, everyone thought Ed Lee was a bomb that was going to go off in this trial," Kennedy said.

Neither side called Lee.

Defendant Oscar Hernandez was upset with the judge's rulings. "Did you see that injustice there?" he said.

The notes continued two days of unusual doings in the Bell trial.

"The verdicts came out and then it got weird," Friedman said.

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-- Jeff Gottlieb

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