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Trial date set for Bell's Rizzo; Spaccia seeks own day in court

April 02, 2013|By Jeff Gottlieb and Richard Winton

With former Bell city manager Robert Rizzo's trial now slated to begin in September, his assistant wants a separate trial and may join her ex-boss in asking for a change of venue, her lawyer said Tuesday.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy set a Sept. 9 trial date for Rizzo and his assistant administrator, Angela Spaccia, on multiple public corruption-related charges.

But whether that trial occurs in Los Angeles or elsewhere -- and whether the two are tried together -- remains to be seen.

FULL COVERAGE: Bell corruption trial

Spaccia's attorney, Harlan Braun, said he is going to 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.

Her defense will to be to blame Rizzo, "so how can he get a fair trial," Braun said bluntly. Spaccia faces 13 public corruption-related counts; Rizzo faces 69. 

INDICTMENT: Rizzo, Spaccia

Braun said he may also seek a change of venue for the trial. James Spertus, Rizzo's attorney, has already said he believes that his client must face a jury outside of the circulation area of the Los Angeles Times.

Braun on Tuesday criticized Judge Kennedy's handling of the case. "I think she is very prejudiced against us," Braun said. "If this is not a change of venue, what is?"

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

TIMELINE: 'Corruption on steroids'

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.

Rizzo's 69 counts range from misappropriating city funds to loaning out city money to friends, colleagues and a business owner.

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 discern.

The charges against the council members were based on the size of the salaries they drew for serving on a variety of committees that rarely met. Rizzo, by contrast, is accused of waging a seven-year assault on the city treasury, falsifying public documents, loaning out city funds and approving raises for himself without council approval.

Although Spaccia, who now works for her attorney, showed up one day at the council trial, Rizzo has kept a low profile in recent months.

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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Twitter: @lacrimes | Google+

richard.winton@latimes.com

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