Wednesday, June 2, 2004
Lawyer Charged With Laundering Hahn Contributions
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
Prominent Los Angeles trial attorney Pierce O’Donnell was ordered yesterday to appear in court June 17 on charges of making illegal contributions to Mayor James K. Hahn’s election campaign through donors including his personal trainer and the mother of his firm’s office administrator.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Patricia Schnegg unsealed the misdemeanor complaint and ordered the attorney to appear at the downtown Los Angeles courthouse for arraignment on 26 misdemeanor charges of improperly identifying donors. He was not in court for the brief hearing.
O’Donnell, who has represented high-profile clients including MGM and Pfizer Inc., asked employees and others to contribute the maximum of $1,000 to the campaign in 2000 and 2001, and then paid them back with his own money, the District Attorney’s Office said.
Prosecutors made no allegations against Hahn or his campaign. Hahn campaign spokesman Bill Wardlaw did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
If convicted of all counts, O’Donnell faces a sentence ranging from probation to 13 years in jail, prosecutors said.
Seven other people were also charged with at least one count each, including O’Donnell’s personal secretary Dolores Valdez, his personal trainer David Bernstein, and Linda Fraser, an attorney who worked as a paralegal at O’Donnell’s Los Angeles firm, O’Donnell & Shaeffer.
Under city campaign laws, donors can contribute no more than $1,000 to one candidate per election. At least 21 people linked to O’Donnell’s law firm made contributions of $1,000, records show.
The state Fair Political Practices Commission and the Los Angeles Ethics Commission were also investigating the allegations, said David Demerjian, the head deputy in charge of the district attorney’s Public Integrity Division.
O’Donnell, 57, said in a statement that he and his law firm were “disappointed that the District Attorney’s office has chosen to charge technical violations of the California Government Code as misdemeanor offenses, rather than bringing this case as a civil or administrative proceeding, as is usually done.”
O’Donnell has cooperated with authorities, the statement said.
Demerjian said the charges were filed May 20, four days before the statute of limitations would have expired for criminal prosecution of some of the allegedly illegal donations. Prosecutors first heard of the allegations after FPPC officials contacted the city Ethics Commission within the past several months, he said.
The complaint was kept under seal until yesterday at O’Donnell’s request so the attorney could complete work on a case, prosecutors said.
Others charged in the complaint were Los Angeles attorney Neil Sacker, a personal friend of O’Donnell; his firm’s office administrator Else Latinovic and her mother, Anita Latinovic; and legal secretary Hilda Escobar.
Craig Parsons, a spokesman for O’Donnell’s firm, noted that the charges were different from allegations which prompted an ongoing investigation into whether city officials forced businesses to “pay to play” for contracts.
“It’s not even close to being an issue, because there’s no history of real city business,” he said, noting that O’Donnell last directly represented Los Angeles in the 1980s.
O’Donnell has known Hahn for 20 years and “thinks he’s a good mayor,” Parsons said.
O’Donnell has long been a major figure in Democratic Party politics in the city, as well as the state. He received his undergraduate degree from Georgetown University law degrees from Georgetown and Yale.
O’Donnell clerked for the late Supreme Court Justice Byron R. White and then-Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Shirley M. Hufstedler. He was named one of the 100 most influential lawyers in America by the National Law Journal.
In 1988, O’Donnell represented writer Art Buchwald in a lawsuit against Paramount Pictures in which Buchwald and a partner contended Paramount failed to give them credit for the original story of Eddie Murphy’s 1988 hit movie “Coming to America.” He and Los Angeles Times reporter Dennis McDougal subsequently produced a book about the litigation, “Fatal Subtraction: The Inside Story of Buchwald v. Paramount.”
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company