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Embattled Bell officials want city to pay their legal bills

Current and former council members ask the court to order Bell to pay their legal expenses in fighting the state's allegations of misappropriation of public funds and the D.A.'s charges of public corruption.

January 11, 2011|By Richard Winton, Los Angeles Times
  • Bell Mayor Oscar Hernandez is one of eight current or former officials accused of misappropriating funds.
Bell Mayor Oscar Hernandez is one of eight current or former officials accused… (Al Seib, Los Angeles Times )

Three present and former Bell City Council members charged with public corruption are asking a judge to order the city to pay some of their legal bills.

Attorneys for Mayor Oscar Hernandez, Councilwoman Teresa Jacobo and former Councilman George Cole argue in court filings that the city should cover their legal expenses in a lawsuit filed last year by the California Attorney General's Office.

Jacobo and Cole also want the city to pay their legal bills in a criminal case brought by the Los Angeles County district attorney.

Lawyers for the three insist that despite claims that their clients took large salaries for little or no work, they did nothing legally wrong and are entitled to have Bell cover the costs.

The effort comes as state auditors warn that the city's expenses are already exceeding its income, leaving Bell little alternative but to cut services and employees.

In a cross complaint filed last week, Jacobo's attorney wrote that her client "is entitled to indemnification" because the alleged crimes occurred as part of her duties or under the direction of the city.

Cole sought relief from the court in a motion filed late last month.

"At the time of obeying the city of Bell's directions and carrying out his duties, Mr. Cole did not believe that his actions were unlawful," his attorney wrote.

Jacobo, 52, Cole, 60, and Hernandez, 63, along with former City Administrator Robert Rizzo, 56, former Assistant City Administrator Angela Spaccia, 52, City Councilman George Mirabal, 60, and former council members Luis Artiga, 49, and Victor Bello, 51, are charged with misappropriating public funds. The council members earned about $100,000 annually for meetings that did not occur or lasted only a few minutes.

The city has refused to pay the officials' legal expenses.

Last month in a blow to the state's lawsuit, a Superior Court judge rejected a motion that would have let the attorney general put the civil case on hold while the district attorney pursues public corruption charges against the eight current and former leaders.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Ralph W. Dau said he was unimpressed with the attorney general's argument that the criminal corruption case could be damaged if he didn't grant a postponement, and suggested that the state should dismiss its case and refile later. The suits seek to get back millions of dollars from the council members and city officials.

richard.winton@latimes.com

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