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Councilman Challenges Ethics Panel’s Proposed Fine

Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles City Councilman Jack Weiss appeared before a state administrative judge Thursday in an attempt to avoid being fined for violations of city campaign regulations.

Appearing as a witness, Weiss said that he was challenging the city Ethics Commission’s fine because “there is nothing more important to me as a professional -- nothing -- than my integrity and my reputation for honesty.”

Later, he said he was concerned that his integrity be understood by the public and any future employers.

After a daylong hearing, Judge Timothy S. Thomas said he would issue a ruling in the next 30 days. That recommendation would then go back to the Ethics Commission for consideration.

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Weiss’ attorneys are proposing that he either receive a nominal fine or no fine. The Ethics Commission proposed a $25,200 fine.

In March, the commission accused Weiss of 40 violations of city campaign rules, specifically that he failed to properly disclose several mass mailings from his 2001 council campaign and that he did not properly report a few expenses from his political officeholder account.

Such accounts are built with contributions from the public and can be used for expenses incurred while in elected office.

The accusation came after Weiss turned down an offer of a $17,000 settlement in the case. Because the case could not be settled, the city’s ethics commissioners decided to have a state administrative judge hear it, an unusual but not unprecedented move.

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Weiss does not dispute that the violations occurred, but his attorneys argued that they were inadvertent, which the Ethics Commission does not dispute. Nor is there disagreement that he tried to hinder the Ethics Commission’s investigation.

The dispute, rather, is whether the punishment fits the crime.

A former federal prosecutor, Weiss won reelection this spring by a large margin. There is speculation in City Hall that he could run for city attorney in 2007 to replace Rocky Delgadillo -- if Delgadillo’s bid for state attorney general succeeds.

Weiss has never commented publicly on those rumors and declined to comment Thursday.

Other elected officials in the city have paid large fines without any seeming impact on their political futures. In 2002, Councilman Alex Padilla was fined $79,000 for receiving excess contributions and violating spending limits in his 1999 campaign. Padilla ran unopposed in 2005 and was reelected council president for a third term.

LeeAnn Pelham, the executive director of the Ethics Commission, also took the witness stand. Under cross-examination, she said one purpose of fines is to protect public disclosure of certain information.


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