10:00 PM PST on Monday, January 10, 2011

The Press-Enterprise

Private attorney fees for a lawsuit filed against Riverside County by outgoing District Attorney Rod Pacheco were paid for with $104,683 in funds from seized criminal assets, records released Monday show

State asset forfeiture funds are often used for supplies and equipment, but an official who authorized some payments defended using the money for legal fees.

The lawsuit claimed Riverside County overstepped its authority in denying district attorney hiring requests. The county claimed Pacheco tried to fill jobs that had been frozen in the budget crisis.

Records obtained by The Press-Enterprise with a California Public Records act request show 11 checks at $10,000 each to the Santa Monica firm of Bingham McCutcheon. One attorney’s rate was $750 an hour, another was $625 hourly.

“I think it was a terrible waste of taxpayers’ money,” said District Attorney Paul Zellerbach. He said he would not approve using the funds to pay attorneys.

The $10,000 amounts are the maximum that can be spent without county board of supervisors’ approval. That avoided a request from Pacheco’s office for supervisors to authorize payments for a lawsuit against them.

The law firm will return $5,316.67, Chief Assistant District Attorney Bill Mitchell, who approved some of the checks, said Monday.

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