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Delay on lawsuit shows lack of evidence in Bell case, defense says

Action by Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown proves civil lawsuit was a publicity stunt in governor's race, attorney for former administrator Robert Rizzo says.

November 15, 2010|By Corina Knoll, Los Angeles Times

A request by the attorney general and the Los Angeles County district attorney's office to delay a civil suit filed against current and former Bell officials indicates a lack of evidence the city leaders plotted to loot the city treasury, the defendants' lawyers said Monday.

Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown filed the suit in September, alleging that former City Administrator Robert Rizzo and others conspired to drive up their salaries, inflate their pensions and conceal the cost to taxpayers.

On Friday, however, Brown filed a motion to halt action on the suit until the criminal case against former and current Bell officials is resolved. Many of the defendants in the civil case are also charged with felonies in the criminal complaint.

The motion to stay, filed in conjunction with the district attorney's office, said that a delay would prevent defendants from seeking civil documents that could benefit their criminal cases. Waiting for the conclusion of the criminal case would also help narrow the issues in the civil case, thereby conserving judicial resources, the motion said.

But Russell Petti, an attorney for former Assistant City Administrator Angela Spaccia, said the reasoning doesn't make sense because Brown was aware of the criminal investigation when he filed the civil suit.

James Spertus, Rizzo's attorney, said the request proves that Brown filed the case as a publicity stunt to aid his gubernatorial campaign. Brown was elected governor earlier this month.

"This is a red flag to the public that there's perhaps nothing real behind the curtain. Normally the plaintiffs are the ones wanting to go forward," said Spertus, who has yet to receive documents supporting Brown's claims.

"The attorney general is begging for a conviction in a criminal case so they never have to put together their own case. If Mr. Rizzo was asking for a stay, I guarantee you everybody would be saying, 'Why are you trying to hide from public view?' "

Deputy Dist. Atty. Jennifer Lentz Snyder said agencies were attempting to work together efficiently to restore integrity to the city of Bell. The attorney general's office had no comment.

Earlier this month, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Ralph W. Dau warned that the civil suit, which seeks to force city officials to pay back hundreds of thousands of dollars and slash their pensions, was in danger of being dismissed. Dau questioned Brown's authority in the case.

corina.knoll@latimes.com

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