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Bell won't have to pay Rizzo's legal bill, court rules

October 04, 2013|By Jeff Gottlieb
  • Robert Rizzo in court in 2011 with his assistant, Angela Spaccia, at left.
Robert Rizzo in court in 2011 with his assistant, Angela Spaccia, at left. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)

A state appeals court ruled Friday that the working-class city of Bell will not have to pay the legal costs for Robert Rizzo, the former city manager who pleaded no contest this week to 69 counts of corruption-related crimes.

The 3-0 ruling that Bell doesn’t have to pay for Rizzo’s defense in civil or criminal cases could save the city millions of dollars, said Anthony Taylor, Bell’s lead litigation counsel.

He said the decision also would apply to the other former officials who were charged in the Bell scandal, including six former City Council members and Angela Spaccia, the former assistant city manager whose trial is expected to start this month.

The city was left on the brink of bankruptcy after the 2010 salary scandal that resulted in Rizzo and seven others being charged with misappropriating city funds and other crimes.

“The City is of the belief that Rizzo stole millions of dollars from its coffers; the idea that the City must pay Rizzo additional funds in order [to] provide him a defense against the very actions seeking to obtain justice for the City is unacceptable,” the court wrote.

Rizzo’s attorney, James Spertus, said he was curious to read the opinion because the city had only asked the panel to review the lower court’s denial of a jury trial to decide the issue.

Spertus has argued that a clause in Rizzo’s contract requires the city to indemnify him for legal action taken against him for actions he took while on the job.

Taylor said that according to the opinion, a city does not have to pay for the legal costs of an official charged in a criminal case. It would have to pay for the defense in the case where a developer sued the city manager because its proposed shopping mall was turned down, he said.

During a court hearing last month, Spertus revealed that Rizzo’s legal front had hit hard times.

When asked by the court why Rizzo hadn’t hire a polling firm to determine if he could get a fair trial in Los Angeles, Spertus said “We don't have the money.... This entire defense is being financed, unfortunately, by me.”

At one time, Rizzo owned a $1-million home in Huntington Beach, a 10-acre ranch in Washington state, a stable of racehorses and was set to earn $1.5 million in total compensation as Bell’s top administrator.

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steve.marble@latimes.com

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