Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times | Terms of Service | Privacy Policy
Advertisement
Share
News

Wayne Baglin found not guilty

Barbara Diamond

A jury of eight women and five men exonerated Councilman Wayne Baglin

Thursday on all charges of violating a state government code when he

accepted a commission on the sale of Third Street property to the

Advertisement

city.

Baglin came under investigation after he accepted a $36,000

commission as the exclusive agent for Dorothy and Edgar Hatfield, who

sold two lots on Third Street to the city. He was indicted by a

Advertisement

county grand jury.

“I called the Baglins and left a message on their phone saying I

was looking forward to continuing to serve on the council with

Wayne,” said Councilwoman Cheryl Kinsman, who appeared as a witness

during the trial. “I realize they know everything I said in court was

true and I also realize their attorney had to try to make me look bad

and I have no hard feelings about it.”

Family members and several friends attended the trial to lend

Advertisement

support to the embattled councilman.

“This has been going on for two years, but it’s pretty intense

right now,” Baglin’s wife, Faye, said Wednesday.

The jury left the courtroom with instructions from Superior Court

Judge Robert R. Fitzgerald to rely on the evidence presented or

stipulated in the courtroom.

Evidence included a contract between Baglin and the clients he

represented in the sale; minutes from council meetings; letters from

Advertisement

the city to Baglin; 29 pages of explanation of eminent domain;

Baglin’s telephone records and notations about the calls; a deed

transferring the property from Baglin’s clients to the city; and the

escrow instructions that authorized Baglin’s $36,000 commission.

Defense attorney Michael Molfetta said Baglin thought the city was

going to use eminent domain to acquire property on Third Street,

which would have made it legal for him to accept a commission.

In the end, eminent domain was not used to acquire the property.

Instead the city paid the full asking price.

Eminent domain is the procedure by which a governing body can

obtain a property regardless of whether the owner is willing to sell.

It requires a certified appraiser to evaluate the property and a

court to decide the price.

An appraisal was made at the request of City Manager Kenneth

Frank, but not by a certified appraiser and only for the purposes of

establishing that the Hatfields’ $1.8 million asking price was

acceptable, Frank told the jury.

Kohn said he specifically advised Baglin that accepting a

commission could be problematic, but Molfetta contended that was not

a strong enough statement. Kohn also said he sent Baglin a packet of

information, which included eminent domain, at Baglin’s request, that

made it clear he was prohibited from accepting a commission. Kohn

also said he told Baglin to seek the advice of another attorney,

information he allegedly shared with other council members, but which

he was not asked about in court and to which he did not testify.

The Hatfields signed an exclusive contract with Baglin to

represent them on Jan. 19, 2001, about a month and a half after he

took office.

Baglin said he felt obligated to represent the Hatfields, even if

they didn’t feel obligated to him, because he had evaluated the

property for them, had asked to be considered as their agent and had

every expectation that they would be his clients in the sale of the

Third Street property, since he had previously represented them in

the sale of their home.

The councilman also said he didn’t know the city was still

interested in buying the property when he ran for office in November

2000, because the last show of interest was in May of that year.

Baglin never made a secret of his representing the Hatfields and he

never voted on the acquisition of the Hatfields’ property, which

would have been a violation of the state Political Reform Act, which

deals with money changing hands.

After hearing that Baglin had put the Third Street properties onto

multiple listings and learning that another offer was in the works,

the City Council voted in closed session to initiate eminent domain

procedures and announced its intent at the Jan. 23 meeting.

That same day, Frank submitted an offer for the full asking price,

with a $50,000 deposit. He also sent a letter to the Hatfields making

them aware of the council’s vote to begin eminent domain proceedings.

Action never went beyond a “threat of eminent domain” because the

Hatfields accepted the city’s all-cash offer three days later. They

testified that they never paid any attention to the possibility of

eminent domain.

“The idea didn’t go far because we had a deposit check shortly

after this,” Edgar Hatfield testified. “It all went pretty fast.”

Under cross examination by Baglin attorney Molfetta, Hatfield

added: “I don’t have much recollection about eminent domain. I just

didn’t deal with eminent domain.”

Hatfield also testified that he was unaware of offers other than

the one from the city. Baglin had received an offer, but it was never

delivered to the Hatfields, he said, because the city made a

full-asking price offer and he understood the city would begin

eminent domain proceedings.

Dorothy Hatfield said she particularly wanted the city to have the

property because it had been in her family for generations. She said

she had never felt pressured by the city or that she was being forced

to sell.

“The Hatfields are not sophisticated; they are a wonderful,

elderly couple and even they knew [the city proposal] was not eminent

domain,” Deputy Dist. Atty. Jeffrey Winter said. “Baglin wants you to

believe he didn’t know.”

Winter said Baglin was made aware that the city was not proceeding

with eminent domain at the first council meeting in February.

Kinsman testified that she knew and wanted to make sure everyone

knew eminent domain was no longer a city strategy, so she asked the

status of the proceedings at the public meeting.

“I was asked to testify by Wayne,” Kinsman said. “I went

voluntarily. I didn’t have to.”

A videotape of her question and the response was played on

Wednesday during a break in the testimony by Kohn.

“You heard Cheryl Kinsman -- God love her -- but you can tell from

the video -- she didn’t know,” Molfetta said in his closing argument.

Molfetta said petty city politics led to the six felony counts

against Baglin and actions or lack of action on the acquisition of

the property led Baglin to believe that he was entitled to take the

commission.

“I felt I had earned it,” Baglin told the jury from the witness

box Tuesday.

Winter contended in closing arguments that Baglin may have earned

it, but taking it was a crime.

“On Feb. 6, Mr. Baglin learned that the city was not going forth

with eminent domain,” Winter told the jury. “Twenty days later, he

takes a check for $36,000, cashes it and keeps it.

“He owed his allegiance to the city."The jury, however, decided

the city had not been compromised by Baglin’s acceptance of a

commission.


Advertisement