Five ex-Bell council members blame city attorney, file suit

This post has been updated, as indicated below.

The five former Bell council members convicted in a corruption case filed suit Friday against the former city attorney and his law firm, saying the convictions were the result of bad legal advice.

The lawsuit charges Edward Lee and Best, Best & Krieger with legal malpractice, breach of contract and negligent representation for not telling council members that their high salaries may have been illegal.

The suit says that Lee and his firm did not object that council members were paid extra for sitting on various city boards.

Former council members Oscar Hernandez, George Cole, George Mirabal, Teresa Jacobo and Victor Bello last year were found guilty of misappropriation of public funds, the result of drawing paychecks for serving on boards that seldom, if ever, met.

Sitting on these boards pushed council salaries to high as $100,000 a year in a city of less than 40,000 people.

"They're not lawyers," said Stanley L. Friedman, Hernandez's attorney. "They relied on the city attorney, and he was there at all the meetings."

Because the jury failed to reach a verdict on some charges, the council members face a second trial. The district attorney, though, recently offered them maximum sentences of four years in prison if they plead guilty.

As a result of their convictions, the judge already could sentence them to eight years in prison.

Bell previously received $2.5 million to settle its malpractice lawsuit against Lee and Best, Best & Krieger.

Besides the criminal charges, the Bell council members also are being sued by the state attorney general.

The lawsuit also mentions the possibility of action by the Securities and Exchange Commission and "various adverse bond claims."

[Updated, 9:29 p.m. PST, March 7, 2014: Late Friday, Best, Best & Krieger issued a statement on the lawsuit, calling it "a frivolous attempt to deflect the spotlight from their own criminal actions, and we will vigorously defend the firm."]

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