Juror dismissed in Bell, Calif, corruption case


Associated Press

Posted on February 28, 2013 at 4:01 PM

Updated Thursday, Feb 28 at 6:06 PM

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Deliberations have started over in the trial of six former officials of Bell, Calif., after one juror was dismissed for misconduct.

An alternate juror was placed on the Los Angeles County Superior Court panel Thursday afternoon and the judge said the case must be decided as if the previous deliberations never occurred.

The panel was in its fifth day of talks when two notes were sent to the judge. During a hearing an elderly woman juror admitted she looked up information online and had her daughter search out a definition of what would constitute coercion by other jurors.

The six former officials are accused of misappropriating funds by giving themselves huge salaries.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

A weeping juror was dismissed Thursday for committing misconduct during deliberations in the public corruption trial of six former officials of the suburban city of Bell.

The woman juror admitted she looked up information online and had her daughter search out a definition of what would constitute coercion by other jurors.

Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy scheduled an afternoon hearing to select an alternate juror to join the panel so that deliberations could begin anew.

The defendants are charged with misappropriation of public funds for giving themselves huge salaries and nearly bankrupting the tiny suburb of Los Angeles.

The jury had been in its fifth day of deliberations after a three-week trial.

Deliberations were troubled from the outset.

On Monday, the elderly woman identified only as juror No. 3 asked to be dismissed, claiming other jurors were harassing her because of her opinions. The judge asked her to return to deliberations and try to get along with the others.

On Thursday, the jury sent a note to the judge saying they were at an impasse and could not reach verdicts. Then, one juror sent a subsequent note reporting that the woman juror told panelists she had called her personal attorney to seek information on what to do about being coerced by other jurors.

The judge summoned defendants and lawyers to her courtroom and asked juror No. 3 to explain her actions. The woman, who was verging on tears, said she never actually called a lawyer.

"I gave them the attorney's name so they would leave me alone," she said.

But she said she had asked her adult daughter to look up the definition of "coercion" on her computer. She said she told the others that she had the definition but didn't read it to them.

The judge asked why she ignored admonitions not to talk to anyone about the case. She said she needed someone to talk to "about the abuse I was suffering from the other jurors."

She said the daughter told her to be patient and everything would be fine.

She added that she also did research on a website of the California Law Library to find out how long she had to stay "when I had made my decision."

At one point, she buried her face in her hands and began to cry.

"Am I in trouble for this?" she asked.

Most of the attorneys and the prosecutor agreed that the juror had to be replaced.

"I believe it is plain that she was engaged in juror misconduct," said Deputy District Attorney Edward Miller. "How much she tainted other jurors is not clear. I've never seen it so well documented."

The judge told the juror she was being dismissed.

"You're not in trouble," she told her. "There's no reason to be upset. That's why we have alternates."

The juror was sobbing as she was escorted out of the courtroom.

During the trial the prosecution said the defendants convinced themselves they were entitled to nearly six-figure salaries for part-time positions governing the tiny blue-collar city where the median income is $35,000.

The former city manager, Robert Rizzo, and his assistant, Angela Spaccia, who were allegedly behind the looting of the city coffers face trial later in the year.

The officials on trial are former Mayor Oscar Hernandez, former Vice Mayor Teresa Jacobo and former council members George Mirabal, George Cole, Victor Bello and Luis Artiga. All except Artiga served as mayor at some point.