Friday, September 7, 2012
D.A.’s Office Has No Conflict in Bell Prosecution, C.A. Rules
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A Los Angeles Superior Court judge did not abuse her discretion by denying a motion to disqualify the District Attorney’s Office from prosecuting former Bell Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia, the Court of Appeal for this district ruled yesterday.
Div. Three denied Spaccia’s petition for a writ of mandate, holding that she failed to submit prima facie evidence that an alleged professional relationship between former Chief of Police Randy Adams and District Attorney Steve Cooley requires disqualification of Cooley’s entire office.
Spaccia and former City Manager Robert Rizzo were indicted on March 29 of last year on charges of misappropriating public funds, conflict of interest, falsifying public documents and secreting public documents. Both had been named earlier, along with several then-City Council members, on charges of defrauding taxpayers out of roughly $5.5 million by inflating their salaries and benefits and making illicit loans of public money, but the writ petition only involved the second indictment.
Those charges include accusations that Rizzo and Spaccia falsified documents purporting to be contracts for former Adams and hid documents indicating that he was being paid nearly $10,000 more per pay period, and that he would be filing for a disability pension once he retired. Spaccia is specifically accused of having drafted the contracts and sent Adams an email indicating that the agreements were drafted “carefully so we do not draw attention to our pay.”
Motion to Recuse
Earlier this year, Spaccia moved to recuse Cooley’s office, arguing that certain of its personnel were involved in Adams’ hiring by the city. This created a conflict of interest and had resulted in her being treated unfairly by the prosecutors, who declined to investigate Adams’ possible involvement in criminal activity or even interview him, she said.
In support of her motion, she filed a declaration stating that Adams had told her he had spoken to Cooley about his potential hiring as chief, and specifically had discussed his potential salary. Adams claimed Cooley told him there were no problems in Bell and that if the city was willing to pay him a huge salary, he should take it, Spaccia declared.
Had Adams been charged, she said, he would likely give testimony at trial that would exonerate her.
Attached to the declaration was an excerpt of a civil complaint filed by Adams against the city, in which he alleged that district attorney personnel had encouraged him to accept the city’s offer.
Attorney General Opposes
The attorney general opposed the motion, arguing that since there was no evidence that Cooley personally interceded in Adams’ negotiations with the city, any conflict could be addressed by disqualifying specific individuals in Cooley’s office from involvement in the prosecution.
Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy denied the motion, saying there was no basis to disqualify the entire office, even if Cooley had personally encouraged Adams to accept the chief’s job and the proposed salary that went with it.
Justice Walter Croskey, writing for the Court of Appeal, said the trial judge was correct, and that there was no need for her to conduct an evidentiary hearing in order to resolve the issues raised by the petition.
The jurist distinguished City and County of San Francisco v. Cobra Solutions, Inc. (2006) 38 Cal.4th 839, which held that the entire City Attorney’s Office should be recused in an action in which the newly elected city attorney had previously represented the adverse party.
Cobra Solutions, Croskey said, does not apply to criminal cases, in which the recusal standard is set by Penal Code Sec. 1424. That section, the justice explained, has been interpreted as requiring that the moving defendant not only establish that a conflict of interest—not merely an appearance of impropriety—exists, but that it is so severe that disqualification is necessary to protect the right to a fair trial.
‘An Extreme Step’
The state high court, Croskey noted, has viewed the latter requirement strictly, calling disqualification of an entire prosecutor’s office “an extreme step.” Spaccia’s arguments, the justice said, are too speculative to meet the standard.
Spaccia, he said, offered no evidence that Adams’ testimony would exonerate her, that Adams’ testimony if subpoenaed by her would be less favorable than if he were charged and testified on his own behalf, or that the district attorney would not offer Adams immunity.
Attorneys on appeal were Harland W. Braun and Steven Graff Levine for Spaccia, and Deputy Attorneys General Robert M. Snider and Steven D. Matthews and Deputy District Attorneys Irene Wakabayashi, Roberta Schwartz and Gilbert S. Wright for the prosecution.
The case is Spaccia v. Superior Court (People), B239472.
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company