A lawyer for Juanita St. John, the embattled former head of the city's Africa trade task force, accused City Atty. James K. Hahn of a conflict of interest Tuesday and said she will seek to have his office removed from prosecuting St. John for refusing to turn over financial records.
If the request is approved, it could delay St. John's trial well beyond the Dec. 21 date set Tuesday by Los Angeles County Municipal Court Commissioner Barry D. Kohn. If Hahn is removed, the case could be turned over to the district attorney's office.
St. John, who did not appear at the hearing Tuesday, is charged with a criminal misdemeanor for failing to comply with a subpoena issued by City Controller Rick Tuttle, who was seeking financial records related to task force accounts. The task force was funded largely through city appropriations.
Vicki Podboresky, one of St. John's lawyers, said after a brief court appearance Tuesday that she will file a motion within the next few weeks challenging Hahn's impartiality in the case.
Because Hahn, as the city attorney, represents the city controller, he is unable to view the situation with the detachment required by law, Podboresky said. "The city controller has a specific interest in seeing this case prosecuted," she said.
Michael Guarino, an assistant city attorney handling the case, said Tuesday that he does not believe his office is prejudiced in the matter.
St. John, a friend and business associate of Mayor Tom Bradley, is the subject of a number of investigations for her handling of about $400,000 in city funds that Bradley helped secure for the task force, beginning in 1985.
According to a city audit, St. John owes the city more than $260,000 and has failed to account for nearly $180,000 in personal withdrawals from task force accounts. She has a long history of personal financial problems.