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Still no verdict in Bell corruption trial; jurors on Day 13

March 13, 2013 |  1:36 pm

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

Deliberations resumed Wednesday in the Bell corruption trial, marking the 13th day of discussions regarding the bloated salaries of six former council members accused of inflating their pay by serving on boards and agencies that rarely met.

The panel did not meet Tuesday after a juror called in sick, the latest roadblock to a verdict in a case that some believed would be an easy, quick sell.

Handed the case on Feb. 22, jurors have requested testimony read-backs, sent questions to the judge and at one point appeared to be deadlocked.

FULL COVERAGE: Bell corruption trial

Based on the questions, the jury appears to be debating the legality of the paychecks received by Luis Artigo, Victor Bello, George Cole, Oscar Hernandez, Teresa Jacobo and George Mirabal, who earned up to $100,000 a year. Before adjourning Monday, jurors asked to hear testimony about a portion of the City Charter having to do with council pay and a section of the state Constitution.

Some legal experts say lengthy deliberations tend to bode well for defendants, although juries are always a tough read.

As Bell’s former officials await their fates -- with former City Administrator Robert Rizzo and former Assistant City Administrator Angela Spaccia facing trial later this year -- the state attorney general has attempted to revive a controversial civil lawsuit against Bell’s former city leaders.

That case was initially tossed out in 2011 by a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge who said it was flawed and politically motivated.

Filed by then-Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown during his campaign for governor, the lawsuit sought restitution to the city of Bell for the defendants’ salaries.

In his ruling, Superior Court Judge Ralph W. Dau said that because of legislative immunity, legislators cannot be sued for passing ordinances that award them high salaries.

He also cited separation of powers and said that the judicial branch was not at liberty to determine legislative matters.

At the time, defense attorneys said the decision made them confident about the lack of evidence in the criminal case.

Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris later filed an appeal with the California Court of Appeals and submitted a brief that argued: “The council member defendants err in presuming that they had carte blanche to raise their salaries to any level they desired, protected entirely by legislative immunity and separation of powers. Their salaries were not only excessive and wasteful, they were, as alleged in the complaint, ‘ultra vires’” (beyond power).

Harris also noted that only the attorney general had the resources to file such a suit and it would be unrealistic to expect anyone in Bell “to muster the resources required to prosecute a costly and lengthy legal battle over the type of illegal expenditures alleged here.”

Oral arguments were made on Tuesday at the 2nd District Court of Appeal, in downtown Los Angeles.

The court will issue a written decision, which typically is done within 90 days, said Hernandez’s attorney Stanley L. Friedman. After that, the case could be taken to the California Supreme Court.

In addition to Hernandez, the suit names Cole, Bello, Jacobo, Mirabal, Rizzo, Spaccia and former Bell Police Chief Randy Adams.

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-- Corina Knoll

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

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