Deliberations in Bell Corruption Trial Hit a Snag
By Rachael Marcus
Jury deliberations over the fate of six former Bell City Council members accused of corruption began anew today after the dismissal of a juror.
The case went to the jury last Friday, but yesterday, the court dismissed a juror for admitting she looked up information online. She also said she had her daughter look up the definition of “jury coercion,” the Associated Press reported.
The former council members face charges of misappropriating public funds by giving themselves nearly six-figure salaries.
Bell, a blue-collar town in Los Angeles County, made national headlines in 2010 when Los Angeles Times reporters discovered that City Council members were drawing the highest salaries of any local officials in the country.
The ensuing scandal resulted in two criminal suits. The first suit is against the former council members. The second suit is against the former city manager and assistant city manager for misappropriation, falsifying public documents, conflict of interest and other charges.
The trial of the council members began in January. KPCC’s Sharon McNary spoke to Bell residents last month about the effects of the scandal on the city (listen to the full report here):
The city, now under new leadership, has racked up legal expenses nearing $2 million since the scandal broke two years ago — about triple the amount a similar-sized city would have. It’s mired in about 40 lawsuits.
But the city also opened its books, adopting an ambitious open-government policy. A new website lists every contract and city employee salary, and a list of every check the city writes is available at council meetings.
In similar-sized cities, a council member would make about $400 a month for part-time work, according to The Los Angeles Times. Council members in Bell paid themselves nearly $100,000 each for their part-time work.
A vote eight years ago paved the way for Bell officials to receive exorbitant salaries. Bell voters approved becoming a charter city. This move exempted Bell from certain state laws, including a new law that capped the pay of council members.
After the scandal broke, allegations of voter fraud ensued.
As Attorney General, now-Gov. Jerry Brown spoke out in 2010 about how the vote changed the city. Listen to more about the fateful vote on The California Report.
More Bell coverage from KQED and NPR: