From left, former Bell City Council members Victor Bello and Luis Artiga,… (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times )
A state appeals court Tuesday put the brakes on part of the criminal case against two top Bell officials in a dispute over whether the Los Angeles County district attorney should be allowed to prosecute the case.
What exactly the decision from the 2nd District Court of Appeal means, though, was disputed by attorneys for the defense and the prosecution.
A star player in this drama is Randy Adams, Bell's highly paid former police chief, who has not been charged.
Among the allegations faced by Robert Rizzo, Bell's former chief administrative officer, and Angela Spaccia, Rizzo's second in command, is that they hid Adams' $457,000 annual paycheck by dividing it into two contracts.
They also have been charged with hiding an agreement allowing Adams to retire with a disability pension, which would have allowed him to pay half the taxes on his pension.
The decision does not affect any of the more voluminous charges against Rizzo and Spaccia or those against the six former City Council members. Led by Rizzo, eight former former Bell officials have been variously accused of draining the city's treasury and charged with corruption involving huge salaries, overly generous pensions, and loans of city funds to employees and businesses.
Last December, Harland Braun, Spaccia's attorney, tried to put Adams on the witness stand to testify about his relationship with Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley. Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy, however, refused to allow him to testify.
Braun said Adams told Spaccia as they were negotiating his contract with Bell that Cooley had advised him to take the chief's job, and that he "knew of no problems in Bell."
In a lawsuit Adams filed against Bell for his legal fees, he said the district attorney's office "encouraged" him to accept the job. He didn't say to whom he spoke.
The appeals court order stayed proceedings and set a hearing for July 17.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Jennifer Lentz Snyder said the appeals court can order Kennedy to allow Adams to testify or rule that the judge's decision was correct.
Braun, however, said the appellate court's order means the panel could rule that because Cooley has said he had recused himself from deciding whether Adams should be charged, his entire office is barred from prosecuting him. He says the case should be turned over to the state attorney general.
"I read it that they're likely to throw the D.A. off this portion of [the] Bell case," Braun said.