Councilmember Curren Price, fighting felony charges, turns to donors for help

Councilmember Curren Price and attorney David Willingham
Los Angeles City Councilmember Curren Price, right, and his attorney David Willingham appear in court on July 13. Price has begun raising money to help pay for his legal defense.
(Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times)
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Good morning, and welcome to L.A. on the Record — our City Hall newsletter. It’s David Zahniser bringing you the doings of the last week, with help from Dakota Smith, Julia Wick and Rachel Uranga.

The pitch from Los Angeles City Councilmember Curren Price got right to the point: He’s innocent, and he needs money to pay his legal bills.

Price, in an email sent this week, said he has begun raising money for his legal defense as he fights charges of perjury, embezzlement and conflict of interest. The email, which carries the subject line “I Need Support,” said the new fundraising committee would allow him to retain “the right team of lawyers” to dispute what he called “false accusations.”

“With your help, I am hopeful that I will be able to clear my name and continue working for the people of District 9 and be that unshakeable voice my constituents so desperately need,” wrote Price, now in his third term on the council.

For more than two decades, L.A. politicians have set up legal defense funds to help them beat back lawsuits, Ethics Commission inquiries and corruption probes. Some have lasted little more than a month, while others have been kept alive for several years.


So how does a legal defense fund work? In Price’s case, it’s a lot like a campaign committee, except it can bring in larger amounts of money.

As a candidate for reelection last year, Price was permitted to raise $800 from each donor. (That number was recently upped to $900, thanks to growth in the consumer price index.) As a defendant in a criminal trial, Price will be permitted to take in donations of up to $1,800, under Ethics Commission rules.

Such donations are small potatoes compared with the amounts raised in recent years by former City Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas, who faced his own set of corruption charges and was recently convicted of bribery, conspiracy and fraud.

The Times reported earlier this year that Ridley-Thomas set up two legal defense funds — one connected to City Hall, where he sued to get his pay reinstated, the other connected with his time at Los Angeles County, where, as a member of the Board of Supervisors, he engaged in the activities that became the subject of his criminal case.

Ridley-Thomas pulled in donations as large as $30,000 for the latter legal defense fund, which was not subject to the city’s donor limits. (Price and his chief of staff, Curtis Earnest, each gave $1,000 to that fund in 2021.)

Ridley-Thomas is not the only politician with multiple funds at once. At one point, former City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo, who served from 2001 to 2009, had three separate legal defense funds. Among his donors were lawyers with firms providing legal work for the city, who gave to all three.

In 2011, The Times reported that former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa also had three legal defense funds, two of which were created in response to investigations into his failure to disclose the receipt of free tickets to concerts, sporting events and other activities. Villaraigosa received nearly $42,000 in combined fines from the Ethics Commission and the Fair Political Practices Commission.


Neither Delgadillo nor Villaraigosa faced allegations that were anywhere near as serious as those filed against Price and Ridley-Thomas.

Price hasn’t been to a council meeting since the charges were filed and has said relatively little about his case. We probably won’t know for a while how much Price has raised for his defense, or who his contributors are. Price won’t need to disclose the names of any donor who gave after July 1 until the end of October, according to an Ethics Commission official.

It’s also worth noting that a legal defense fund is supposed to stem from actions an elected official took as part of their duties. In other words, a council member who robs a 7-Eleven probably wouldn’t qualify for a city-sanctioned legal defense fund.

State of play

— COUNCIL REORG: Council President Paul Krekorian issued his new roster of committee assignments this week, permanently removing Price from various assignments and adding in newly elected Councilmember Imelda Padilla. A few tidbits: Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson will now sit on the budget committee, replacing Price. Councilmember Traci Park will take Price’s former spot leading the ad hoc committee on the 2028 Olympics. And Krekorian dissolved the economic development committee, which had been chaired by Price, folding its duties into other committees.

— APPLY WITHIN: Padilla is hiring for 12 jobs, including chief of staff, in her San Fernando Valley district, per the city’s Personnel Department website.

— WHO IS KAREN BASS? Readers of this newsletter may think the whole world revolves around L.A. politics. But during a recent episode of Jeopardy, three contestants were stumped when a smiling photo of Mayor Karen Bass flashed on the screen, and the host described her as the first woman elected mayor of Los Angeles. The question, listed in the category “Fish People” for $800, drew blank stares until time ran out.


— SITTING OUT STRIKES: City Atty. Hydee Feldstein Soto drew criticism this week after her team advised the city’s elected officials to refrain from joining picket lines or engaging in similar union disputes. In a memo, Feldstein Soto’s team said council members who do so could later find themselves having to recuse from certain union issues. Several legal experts disagreed with that take, saying Feldstein Soto is misreading the law.

— FACEBOOK FIREBRAND: A top official with the Los Angeles Police Protective League, which represents rank-and-file police officers, said on Facebook last month that departing officers should go to cities where they “don’t have to beg for a great contract.” The message comes as the LAPD is down by about 1,000 cops compared with four years ago.

— RV REMOVAL: A judge ordered residents living in recreational vehicles on a piece of property in Sylmar to vacate the site by Sunday. Some residents have told The Times they had been paying $500 per month to live in the RVs.

— TREE DRAMA: City officials have begun investigating the recent unpermitted trimming of ficus trees outside Universal Studios, which had been providing shade to striking screenwriters over the last few weeks. The Bureau of Street Services, which oversees the issue of unpermitted tree trimming, has begun looking into the issue, as has City Controller Kenneth Mejia, who said street trees provide significant environmental benefits, particularly during heatwaves.

— MIGRANT BUS, PART 4: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who has previously cited L.A.’s self-proclaimed status as a sanctuary city, sent the city a fourth busload of migrants this week. An aide to Bass said the bus had 41 people, including six children. City leaders declared that L.A. is a “city of sanctuary” in 2019 and are now considering an ordinance to prohibit city resources from being used for enforcement of immigration laws.

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  • Where is Inside Safe? The mayor’s program to combat homelessness did not go to any new locations this week. However, Bass did announce that she had secured $1.7 million in the state budget for security improvements and renovations at interim housing sites across the city.
  • On the docket for next week: Bass is set to speak Monday at Metro’s State of the Agency event. The mayor, who became chair of the transportation agency’s board on July 1, is expected to lay out her priorities for the coming fiscal year.

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