City attorneys want watchdog barred from council meetings

LOS ANGELES (CBS) — A judge on Wednesday delayed ruling on a request by the state Attorney General’s Office for the appointment of a monitor to oversee Bell’s finances, saying he wanted to hear objections of attorneys for the city who believe the request is too broad.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert H. O’Brien set another hearing for next Tuesday. He also asked that each side nominate three prospective monitors.

KNX 1070’s John Brooks Reports

The state’s motion for appointment of a monitor was filed after eight current and former Bell officials, including the former city manager, who was paid a salary of nearly $800,000, pleaded not guilty last month to public corruption charges.

The eight defendants, who were arrested on Sept. 21, are collectively accused of bilking taxpayers in the blue-collar Southeast Los Angeles County city of 40,000 out of roughly $5.5 million through excessive salaries, benefits and illicit loans of public money.

They are charged with nearly two dozen counts of misappropriating public funds, including salaries they received for meetings that, according to prosecutors, never occurred. District Attorney Steve Cooley has called the scandal in Bell “corruption on steroids.”

Former Bell City Manager Robert Rizzo, the central figure in the scandal, also is charged with conflict of interest and falsification of public records by an official custodian.

The eight also are named in a civil suit brought by the attorney general alleging fraud, conspiracy and waste of public funds. The motion for the naming of a monitor is part of that suit.

The state also is moving for a stay on most of the lawsuit until after the criminal case is concluded, but another judge is not scheduled to rule on the request until Dec. 10.

Attorneys for the city say that if an overseer is appointed, they want the monitor to have less power than proposed by the state, including barring the official from attending closed City Council sessions and from reviewing materials protected by the attorney-client relationship.

O’Brien said he has not made up his mind if a monitor should be appointed. But he said if one is named, the person should be informed about the tasks involved.

“I wouldn’t want to lay it on a traditional (monitor) without their knowing if they can live with what we propose,” the judge said.

(©2010 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)


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