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Rizzo aide seeks separate trial in Bell corruption case

Angela Spaccia, former assistant to ex-Bell city manager Robert Rizzo, wants her court proceedings 'severed' from Rizzo's to avoid being 'tainted by association.'

April 02, 2013|By Richard Winton and Jeff Gottlieb, Los Angeles Times
  • Former Bell City Administrator Robert Rizzo is shown in court. His former aide, Angela Spaccia, is seeking to separate her trial from his.
Former Bell City Administrator Robert Rizzo is shown in court. His former… (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times )

With former Bell city manager Robert Rizzo's trial slated to begin in September, his assistant now wants a separate hearing and may join her ex-boss in asking that the case be moved out of Los Angeles.

Rizzo and Angela Spaccia were ordered to appear Sept. 9 on multiple public-corruption-related charges, but whether the trial takes place in Los Angeles or elsewhere — and whether the two are even tried together — remains to be seen.

Spaccia's attorney, Harlan Braun, said he will ask that his client's trial be "severed" from Rizzo's.

"She is going to be tainted by association with Rizzo," Braun explained outside court.

Spaccia's defense will be to blame Rizzo, "so how can he get a fair trial?" Braun asked.

James Spertus, Rizzo's attorney, has already said he believes that his client should be judged by a jury outside the Los Angeles Times' circulation area. The Times revealed the enormous salaries that Rizzo and others in the small, working-class city were drawing.

Braun was also critical of Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy's handling of the case so far. "I think she is very prejudiced against us," Braun said. "If this is not a change of venue, what is?"

Max Huntsman, the deputy district attorney who will prosecute the case, said he has handled high-profile political corruption trials before and he believes an impartial jury can be found in Los Angeles.

Judge Kennedy last month oversaw the trial in downtown L.A. in which five former Bell council members were convicted on multiple corruption-related charges. A sixth former council member was acquitted.

During that trial, defense attorneys heaped all blame on Rizzo, who was fired in 2010 when his near-$800,000 salary and generous benefits package were revealed.

During the four-week trial of former council members, defendants and attorneys described Rizzo as a controlling, forceful and vengeful manager who used the high salaries received by the council members as a way to keep city leaders in check.

But how the jury's verdict — a mixed bag of convictions and acquittals — translates for Rizzo and Spaccia, is hard to predict.

Dmitry Gorin, a former prosecutor, said Spaccia may fare better with a jury if her trial is separated from Rizzo's but, at the same time, having Rizzo in the room may make it easier to blame him.

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