Tuesday, March 1, 2011
Pierce O’Donnell Suspended Over Illegal Campaign Contributions
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
Prominent Los Angeles attorney Pierce O’Donnell has been suspended from practice for violating election campaign laws, State Bar records show.
O’Donnell, a onetime congressional candidate who has been a fixture of liberal Democratic politics as well as a highly successful business litigator, began an actual suspension of 60 days on Feb. 23 as part of a two-year term of probation. A two-year suspension was stayed.
The discipline stems from a criminal case in which O’Donnell was ordered by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Alex Ricciardulli to pay $155,200 in fines and penalties, serve three years probation, and refrain from political fundraising for three years after pleading no contest to California Political Reform Act violations.
The sentence was imposed pursuant to plea negotiations after O’Donnell was accused of making contributions to then-Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn under false names during 2000 and 2001.
Current Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who lost to Hahn in the 2001 election but unseated him four years later, cited the O’Donnell case in his 2005 campaign as one of several ethical issues tied to Hahn. Hahn, who was not charged with wrongdoing and is now a Los Angeles Superior Court judge, said he had no inkling of any irregularities in connection with the donations.
In his decision for the State Bar Court, Hearing Judge Richard A. Platel said O’Donnell was admitted to the Alternative Discipline Program after contending that his violations were related to a “mental health issue.” But he failed to meet program requirements and was terminated, the judge explained.
O’Donnell stipulated that he had violated the PRA. He said he undertook to reimburse staff members for donations after was unable to meet a pledge to raise $50,000 for the campaign.
The judge found in mitigation that O’Donnell had cooperated with State Bar investigators, was remorseful, was under emotional distress at the time of the violations, had demonstrated good character as attested to by various persons, and practiced 29 years without discipline. But the suspension was appropriate, Platel said, because the misconduct involved 26 different employees.
O’Donnell also faces federal charges of using relatives and employees as conduits for illegal donations to the first presidential campaign of then-Sen. John Edwards. Those charges, previously dismissed, were reinstated last year by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company