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Judge denies recusal request in Rizzo trial

February 22, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
The preliminary hearing for Robert Rizzo got under way with a legal challenge Tuesday. Rizzo faces a long list of corruption charges stemming from his job as Bell city manager.

The day started with Robert Rizzo's attorney trying to get Superior Court Judge Henry Hall to recuse himself from this case.

Last week Hall called the Bell case "appalling," and Rizzo's attorney felt the judge would not be impartial. Hall denied that, saying that he is starting from scratch.

Key witness testimony in the case then proceeded.

Rizzo's defense attorney, James Spertus, told the judge he agrees with a lot of the facts in this case: that his client took loans; that he gave loans to others. He just thinks it wasn't against the law.

"The city attorney knew about it," said Spertus. "Outside counsel was aware of it. It was just not something that was unlawful. And so as a conclusion of the case, I'm trying to make a more factual discussion about why it's just not a crime."

"There's no authority for those loans. It's a straight misappropriation for public money," said L.A. County Deputy District Attorney Sean Hassett.

The first witness was Roger Ramirez, the man who in 2008 asked the city for the salaries of the mayor, city council members and city manager Robert Rizzo.

"I asked Mr. Rizzo that I had been hearing rumors that he's making $400,000 a year. And he mainly said, 'Mr. Ramirez, if I could be making $400,000 a year, I wouldn't be working here," said Ramirez.

When that request came in, Lourdes Garcia, an administrator who worked in the finance department, figured out Rizzo's salary.

"What was defendant Rizzo's salary as of September 1st, 2008?"

"Fifty-two-thousand-three-hundred and twenty-five dollars. Per month," said Garcia.

Garcia, who has been granted immunity for her testimony, said Rizzo insisted she shouldn't include money he earned from serving on several city boards. The D.A. alleges those boards were a sham to hide money.

"He insisted that his salary as a CAO was only the portion that was being charged to the General Fund, because he served on the other boards and his titles were different," said Garcia. "And I said 'OK.'"

Rizzo is also facing charges of falsifying public records.