California Watch
A Project of the Center for Investigative Reporting
Money and Politics

November 17, 2010 | Chase Davis

There has been no shortage of political profiteering in recent months over corruption and salary shenanigans down in the now-infamous city of Bell, but a judge’s recent criticism of a civil suit filed by Attorney General Jerry Brown has given ammunition to defense lawyers who have long argued that the case was used to boost Brown’s gubernatorial chances.

In a hearing a couple of weeks back, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Ralph W. Dau questioned whether Brown had the authority to pursue the case, rhetorically adding: “So I’m wondering, is this just a political lawsuit?”

Attorneys from Brown’s office disputed the claim, but they have since filed a motion to delay the suit until criminal charges are resolved against the eight defendants in the case. Among other things, the motion argued that delaying the case would keep the defendants from obtaining documents that could help their criminal cases, according to The Los Angeles Times.

Attorneys for the eight Bell officials charged in the case have been arguing for months that Brown’s lawsuit, which was filed in late September, was designed to boost his profile during the height of his gubernatorial run.

At least one lawyer raised concerns to us last month that the attorney general’s office had not yet subpoenaed the defendants in the case. The California Rules of Court require defendants to be served within 60 days of the filing of a complaint – a deadline that is fast approaching.

Brown has said the suit, which would force the defendants to return hundreds of thousands of dollars in salaries and benefits, was intended only as a crackdown on corruption in the city. He also filed subpoenas against the nearby city of Vernon, where officials have also been accused of receiving excessive salaries, and pushed for a court-ordered monitor to oversee Bell’s finances – a condition the city agreed to last week.

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