Supreme Court Refuses L.A. Attorney’s Appeal in Money-Laundering Case

Times Staff Writer

The state Supreme Court on Wednesday declined to hear an appeal from Los Angeles attorney Pierce O’Donnell, who has argued that he should not face criminal charges that he laundered political contributions.

The ruling paves the way for a trial against the prominent attorney, who faces 26 misdemeanor counts of making donations in other people’s names.

O’Donnell is charged with gathering $25,500 in contributions from employees and associates, giving the money to James K. Hahn’s 2001 mayoral campaign and then reimbursing the donors.


If convicted, he could face up to 13 years in prison.

“The public has a right to know the true source of campaign contributions in city elections,” Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley said in a statement. “It is the responsibility of this office to ensure the integrity of the electoral process.”

O’Donnell is due back in Superior Court for arraignment Aug. 23, but the case may be continued while prosecutors pursue an appeal of a Superior Court judge’s decision to throw out charges against six people who allegedly had their contributions reimbursed by O’Donnell.

The Supreme Court issued a summary ruling with no explanation. Superior Court Judge Ann I. Jones and a state Court of Appeal previously ruled against O’Donnell’s argument that he was improperly charged under state law.

O’Donnell has argued that local law should have applied because the case involved a city election, and that the statute of limitations under local law had expired. Former Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso filed a brief on behalf of several prominent attorneys supporting O’Donnell’s position.

Two charges are also pending against O’Donnell’s personal trainer, David Bernstein, for allegedly participating in the scheme.

O’Donnell spokesman Craig Parsons said the lawyer was not worried about the Supreme Court’s decision, which was made without the court taking oral arguments on the merits of the case.


“Today’s ruling is not based on the merits,” Parsons said. “It is not crippling.”

Loyola Law School Professor Christopher N. May confirmed that the decision leaves open the possibility that the high court could take the matter up after trial in Superior Court.

“They are not necessarily speaking to the merits of the case,” he said, adding that the court may feel that the issue can be resolved through trial.

There still appears to be a chance that the case could be settled without going to trial.

“This ruling will not affect Mr. O’Donnell’s continued cooperation with the district attorney’s office,” Parsons said.

Asked whether a plea bargain is possible, he said, “There are ongoing discussions with the district attorney.”

O’Donnell is the author of five books and recently appeared on the national television program “The O’Reilly Factor” to discuss his latest nonfiction work, “In Time of War: Hitler’s Terrorist Attack on America.”

His clients over the years have included the cities of Anaheim and Pasadena, as well as private firms including MGM and Lockheed Martin.