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Judge rejects Bell mayor's request for legal fees

Superior Court judge says Oscar Hernandez is premature in asking the city of Bell to cover his legal fees to fight allegations of misappropriation of public funds and corruption.

January 25, 2011|By Richard Winton, Los Angeles Times
  • Bell Mayor Oscar Hernandez is one of eight current and former city officials accused of corruption and misappropriation of public funds.
Bell Mayor Oscar Hernandez is one of eight current and former city officials… (Al Seib, Los Angeles Times )

Bell does not have to pick up Mayor Oscar Hernandez's legal expenses in defending himself against accusations that he misappropriated hundreds of thousands of dollars from the city treasury, a Superior Court judge ruled Monday.

Hernandez, who also is facing criminal corruption charges along with seven other current or former leaders in the small city, was seeking to have the city pick up his legal fees in a sweeping lawsuit filed by then-Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown.

The state's lawsuit seeks to recover tax dollars that Brown claims were improperly taken from the city by Hernandez and others.

In making the ruling, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Joseph R. Kalin said that granting such an award would essentially indicate that the mayor had proved his case. Kalin said the request for interim attorneys fees was premature and could be raised at a later date.

Hernandez, Councilwoman Teresa Jacobo and former Councilman George Cole have asked the city to pick up their legal fees, saying they were sued in their official capacity as Bell public officials. The city has refused, but the court has not yet ruled on the requests from Jacobo and Cole.

Stanley Friedman, Hernandez's attorney, said that as the case develops and more depositions are taken and documents obtained, the mayor will re-file his motion asking the city to shoulder his legal costs.

"Ultimately, we believe that the city of Bell will be required to reimburse Mayor Hernandez for his fees and costs in defending the civil action," Friedman said.

Brown's lawsuit itself has been teetering for weeks. A judge has expressed doubt about the state's legal standing to file such a case and urged the attorney general to consider dropping the suit, at least until the criminal case against the officials has been resolved.

Hernandez, Jacobo, Cole, Councilman George Mirabal and former councilmen Victor Bello and Luis Artiga have all been charged with misappropriation of government money in a massive public corruption case filed by the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office. Former City Administrator Robert Rizzo and his assistant, Angela Spaccia, also are charged in the case.

Newly elected Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris told reporters early this month that she is still deciding how to proceed in the civil case brought by her predecessor.

richard.winton@latimes.com

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