Four days after former Bell City Manager Robert Rizzo pleaded no contest to all 69 counts brought against him in a massive public corruption case, jury selection began today for the trial of his former assistant.
Angela Spaccia, the 55-year-old former assistant city manager, was charged along with Rizzo in September 2010. She faces six counts of misappropriation of public funds, four counts of conflict of interest, two counts of secretion of official records and one count of conspiracy to commit misappropriation of public funds.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy told potential jurors she expected the trial to last roughly two months and that it would include complex evidence, including financial data."This is a very complicated case," Kennedy said, adding that the evidence at times might be "tedious" to follow.
Jurors were asked to answer 93 questions about their background and familiarity with the case, including queries about how close they live to Bell and whether they had heard of Rizzo or Spaccia.
Kennedy said it was "unrealistic to think that jurors will not have heard about this case," but that they must decide the case based solely on the evidence and not the opinion of "talking heads."
The judge rejected an earlier defense request to move the trial out of Los Angeles County, but said she would reconsider it if an impartial panel could not be seated.
The list of potential witnesses includes former Bell City Council members Teresa Jacobo and George Mirabal, who were both convicted, along with three other Bell officials, of misappropriation of funds in an earlier trial.
Though his name was not on the list, Kennedy said Rizzo might also be called."We do not know at this time whether he will testify," Kennedy said. "But that is a possibility."
On Friday, Spaccia raised concerns about Rizzo as a witness."But if in fact he plans to testify, then we'll see if he double-crosses me or not," said Spaccia, adding that she was "scared to death because the D.A. wants me to spend the rest of my life in jail."Spaccia's attorney, Harland Braun, has said he believes Rizzo would exonerate his client if he testifies truthfully.
Braun said he expects that his client will testify in her own defense during the trial. He has acknowledged that Spaccia was paid too high a salary --more than $300,000 a year -- but said she maintains she "didn't do anything that was knowingly illegal."
Rizzo, who had been awaiting trial, entered his no contest plea Thursday to charges including misappropriation of public funds, conflict of interest, falsification of records and perjury by declaration. Kennedy said she expects that Rizzo will be sentenced to between 10 and 12 years in state prison on March 12.
Today's pool of jurors for the Spaccia trial was ordered to return on Oct. 21 to be questioned by attorneys for both sides. Two more sets of 75 jurors have been ordered to appear tomorrow and Wednesday to fill out questionnaires.