Friday, February 3, 2006
Pierce O’Donnell Fined, Banned From Fundraising After Pleading No Contest to Campaign Finance Charges
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
Prominent Los Angeles trial attorney Pierce O’Donnell was ordered to pay $155,200 in fines and penalties, placed him on three years probation and banned him from participating in any political fundraising for three years after pleading no contest to Political Reform Act violations.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Alex Ricciardulli imposed the sentence after O’Donnell entered his plea pursuant to negotiations with prosecutors. O’Donnell was accused of making contributions to then-Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn under false names during 2000 and 2001.
O’Donnell, 58, had been charged with 26 misdemeanor counts for allegedly collecting $25,500 in contributions from employees and associates and then reimbursing them. Each count carried a maximum potential sentence of six months in jail.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who lost to Hahn in the 2001 election, cited the O’Donnell case in his campaign last year as one of several ethical issues tied to Hahn. Hahn, who was not charged, said he knew of no wrongdoing involving contributions from O’Donnell associates.
O’Donnell was not present in court and entered the plea through his attorney, George O’Connell. A telephone call to O’Donnell was not immediately returned, but O’Donnell had previously called the violations “technical” and criticized the District Attorney’s Office for filing criminal charges “rather than bringing this case as a civil or administrative proceeding, as is usually done.”
District Attorney Steve Cooley was unapologetic.
“This was an important case in the overall effort by the D.A.’s office to ensure integrity in Los Angeles city government elections,” Cooley said in a statement. “Part of our job is to assure an even playing field in electoral campaigns.”
O’Donnell, who has represented such clients as MGM and Pfizer, still faces possible fines and sanctions by the city Ethics Commission, the state Fair Political Practices Commission and the California Bar Association, said Deputy District Attorney Ric Ocampo, who prosecuted the case with colleague Juliet Schmidt.
An investigation also is pending by the Federal Election Commission in a separate case.
As part of the plea deal, prosecutors dropped their case against co-defendant and personal trainer David Bernstein.
A judge last year dismissed charges against Los Angeles attorney Neil Sacker, a personal friend of O’Donnell; law firm office administrator Else Latinovic and her mother, Anita Latinovic; legal secretary Hilda Seven; O’Donnell’s personal secretary Dolores Valdez; and Linda Fraser, an attorney who worked as a paralegal at O’Donnell’s Los Angeles firm, O’Donnell & Shaeffer, all of whom allegedly made the contributions and were reimbursed by O’Donnell.
The district attorney’s office is appealing that ruling, said Jane Robison, a spokeswoman for the office.
O’Donnell had appealed the filing of the charges against him to the state Supreme Court but lost.
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 2006, Metropolitan News Company