Legal experts say Bell trial verdicts bad news for former city manager Robert Rizzo

Opening Hearing For Bell City Administrators

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File: From left Bell Mayor Oscar Hernandez, former council members Luis Artiga, former Assistant City Administrator Angela Spaccia and former Bell City Administrator Robert Rizzo appear during a preliminary hearing at Los Angeles Superior Court February 22, 2011 in Los Angeles.

Now that the Bell verdicts are in, attention turns to the upcoming trial of former city manager Robert Rizzo.

Prosecutors say Rizzo was the puppeteer who pulled the strings of corruption inside the Bell city hall. He's facing 69 counts on a range of corruption allegations including misappropriating public funds—the charge that led to the convictions of the five former Bell council members.

Rizzo’s name came up plenty in the first Bell trial. Defense attorneys claimed he ruled the city through intimidation, and tricked the council members into corrupt acts—like agreeing to pay themselves huge salaries.

RELATED5 of 6 former Bell officials found guilty of misappropriation of funds

“I mean, it doesn’t bode well for him," says Loyola law professor Stanley Goldman. "The fact that they found these underlings to be responsible. Certainly the government’s going to argue that he was more responsible than any of them.”

Goldman says trial of the six former Bell officials let prosecutors work out the kinks in their case. It resulted in convictions for five of the ex-council members — and Goldman says it may have given prosecutors five witnesses for the next case.

“How many people among them might the prosecution pick to offer some kind of sentence deal in exchange for testifying against Rizzo?” says Goldman.

But USC Law Professor Dan Simon says each trial has its own set of evidence, its own set of defense attorneys — and, most importantly, a new set of jurors.

“We do know that juries are not very predictable," says Simon. "I’d be kind of careful of drawing too many inferences from one case to the next.”

Rizzo is due in court April 2 for a pretrial hearing.

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