Prosecutor Determined to Keep Job

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Ravi Mehta, whom the City Council fired as independent prosecutor this week, asked a judge Wednesday to let him keep his job.

Fullerton Municipal Judge Gregg L. Prickett scheduled a hearing for today to consider why Mehta should not be removed from the post after nearly five months of investigations into allegations of campaign abuses by Mayor Tom Daly and others in the 1996 council race.

"As a prosecutor, I have a legal, moral and ethical obligation to ensure that the interests of the people of California are protected," Mehta said, declining further comment.

The judge sealed all documents that Mehta filed.

The council voted 2 to 1 Tuesday to dismiss Mehta from handling the only unresolved case, which is against Daly. Daly has denied wrongdoing.

Council members Lou Lopez and Shirley McCracken voted to replace Mehta with Irvine attorney Derek G. Johnson. Councilman Bob Zemel objected, and Daly and Councilman Tom Tait abstained.

Lopez said Wednesday that he was stunned at Mehta's attempts to overrule the council.

"We hired him, and we can terminate him," Lopez said.

McCracken said switching prosecutors is not uncommon and noted a case of alleged campaign-finance law violations filed by the city attorney's office that was turned over to Mehta last October.

Zemel said a judge should decide the issue "rather than two political allies of the defendant, Mr. Daly."

Lopez, who with Zemel voted to hire Mehta, former chairman of the state Fair Political Practices Commission, asked the council to fire the prosecutor because of his steep fees.

"I have no problem with his work ethic," Lopez said. "I just feel that going into the last case, a local attorney would be more cost-efficient."

Mehta, who lives in Sacramento, has charged the city about $118,000 for his work, which has included filing dozens of misdemeanor charges against current and former council members and the Anaheim firefighters' political action committee.

He has settled four cases of campaign-law violations, with the defendants paying fines to the city totaling nearly $46,000.

New prosecutor Johnson would take over the case against Daly, his treasurer Debra Daly and former Councilman Irv Pickler. They are accused of accepting contributions that would be illegal under the city's campaign-reform law. Their arraignment is scheduled a week from Friday in Fullerton Municipal Court.

Lopez said Johnson will charge the city $200 an hour, with his rate dropping to as low as $85 if other non-lawyers in his office perform any of the work.

Mehta, who charged $250 an hour, offered to lower his fees to appease council members' concerns about his cost, a move Zemel supported.

Zemel said that the new prosecutor will cost the city more in the long run and that back-room politics played a role in Mehta's firing, a charge Lopez strongly denied.

Lopez is a candidate for the 4th District supervisor's seat, and Daly, who was considered a front-runner for the post, last week announced that he will not run for the office.

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