Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alatorre Thursday agreed to pay a record $141,966 to settle a lawsuit filed against him by the city for violating campaign laws and to end a criminal case against three of his political aides.
Under terms of the settlement, Alatorre, who did not face criminal charges, admitted personal negligence for illegal conduct during his successful City Council campaign last year. Of the total in fines and restitutions, he will pay $5,000 out of his own pocket. Alatorre said he will pay the rest from contributions raised at future political fund-raisers.
A spokesman for the state's Fair Political Practices Commission said the settlement is the largest amount ever paid in California for a violation of campaign laws.
Political leaders said they do not expect the action to threaten the political life of Alatorre, the only Latino member of the council.
The suit was filed by City Atty. James K. Hahn, who accused Alatorre of failing to disclose the source of contributions spent on his campaign for the 14th District seat. Alatorre was the winner in a special election last year to replace Councilman Arthur K. Snyder in the district, which extends from the Eastside through Eagle Rock.
Many of those contributions had been accumulated while Alatorre was a powerful state assemblyman. He was accused of using that money for his council campaign without disclosing the spending, as required by the state Political Reform Act.
Hahn also filed criminal charges against Alatorre's campaign staff for allegedly using thousands of dollars from the state campaign fund for the council race in violation of a city law. The law restricts contributions to $500 per source.
No criminal charges were filed against Alatorre since the city clerk's audit "did not provide sufficient evidence of criminal intent and knowledge beyond a reasonable doubt," Hahn said.
In the settlement, Alatorre admitted the violations and personal negligence in the conduct of his campaign and told how the money from his well-stocked state committee was used to finance his city campaign.
"I take full responsibility for the errors made during my campaign for City Council in 1985," Alatorre's statement said. "In all, the errors were those of negligence, not in willful disregard of the law."
"I am genuinely sorry for the series of errors which has led us to this day," the statement said.
Hahn said: "That statement was, in our view, the principal requirement in any settlement of this dual enforcement action, since I have felt since the outset of this case that Mr. Alatorre should be held as personally accountable as the law would allow for the actions of his campaign."
Even an Alatorre foe said he did not think Alatorre would be harmed politically in his district.
"I don't think it will hurt him," said Antonio Rodriguez, director of the Center for Law and Justice, who ran against Alatorre last year.
Alatorre said: "I think the people of the 14th District (know that), not only as a member of the council but as a member of the Legislature, . . . know that I would never do anything that would cast a disparaging light on them."
Boosted for Mayor
But the question remained of whether it would hamper Alatorre in a possible run for mayor in the future. Alatorre, an influential Latino political leader, is being boosted for mayor by some other political leaders.
Council colleagues, loyal to a fellow council member, would not be quoted by name on the subject, but one political consultant active in city politics said, "Citywide, it hurts him."
"If I were running a citywide campaign against Alatorre," the consultant added, "the first thing I would do is a mailing reproducing the agreement he signed."
Alatorre's attorney, Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., however, said: "I think Richard Alatorre has been very honorable. By . . . not trying to hide behind staff, he said, 'I accept the responsibility.' I think his constituents, in the long run, will appreciate that."
Under the settlement, Alatorre is to pay a $5,000 fine to the city from his personal funds, and his campaign committees are to pay $45,000 in fines. Alatorre must return $57,066 from his council campaign committee to his state campaign committee.
Must Return $34,900
Alatorre's council campaign committee must also return contributions of $34,900 raised before he formally declared his candidacy, a violation of the city campaign law.
In return, the city terminated its civil case against Alatorre. On Thursday, Municipal Judge Rose Hom, on the city attorney's recommendation, fined Alatorre's campaign committees $25,000 and dismissed misdemeanor criminal charges against Alatorre campaign aides Cecilia Alatorre Kunkel, who is the councilman's sister; Ernest Camacho, and Mary Brooks. The $25,000 is part of the $45,000 in fines to be paid by the committee, with the remainder being paid as part of the civil case, said Mike Qualls, a Hahn spokesman.
"Justice has been served," Hahn said. "The last thing the people of Los Angeles need is for the issue of whether they have the right to hold candidates personally accountable for their campaigns to languish in the court system for four or five years before coming to trial."
Alatorre, speaking at a City Hall press conference after the settlement was approved, insisted that the violations were "inadvertent and made in an environment of uncertainty." His campaign was the first conducted under the city's campaign law approved by voters in April, 1985.
Councilman Ernani Bernardi, who authored the city's campaign election law, said he was pleased by the settlement. "I just called Jimmy Hahn to congratulate him and his staff," he said.