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Pier'angela Spaccia v. the Superior Court of Los Angeles County

September 6, 2012

PIER'ANGELA SPACCIA, PETITIONER,
v.
THE SUPERIOR COURT OF LOS ANGELES COUNTY, RESPONDENT; PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA, REAL PARTIES IN INTEREST.



ORIGINAL PROCEEDINGS in mandate. Kathleen Kennedy, Judge. (Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. BA382701)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Croskey, J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

Petition denied.

Petitioner Pier'Angela Spaccia challenges by petition for writ of mandate the trial court's order denying her motion to recuse the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office from representing the People of the State of California in a criminal prosecution arising from her alleged misconduct as Assistant Chief Administrative Officer of the City of Bell (City).*fn1 The charges against Spaccia relate, in part, to her involvement in the transaction by which Randy Adams was purportedly hired by the City to act as the City's Chief of Police, for a very substantial salary, the amount of which was hidden from the City Council. Spaccia argues that the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office must be recused from her prosecution due to the alleged relationship between Adams and District Attorney Steve Cooley, and District Attorney Cooley's purported advice to Adams regarding his contract with the City. We conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying recusal, as Spaccia failed to establish a conflict of interest mandating recusal of the entire district attorney's office. We further conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Spaccia an evidentiary hearing on her recusal motion, as Spaccia failed to submit prima facie evidence of a disabling conflict. We therefore will deny the writ petition.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND*fn2

1. The Indictment

Robert Rizzo was the City Manager (also referred to as the Chief Administrative Officer) of the City; Spaccia was the Assistant City Manager. Rizzo and Spaccia have been charged in two separate cases alleging misappropriations of public funds and conflicts of interest. We are concerned with the second such case, in which Rizzo and Spaccia were charged, on March 29, 2011, by grand jury indictment with seven offenses.*fn3 Several of the counts relate to the City's contract with Adams.*fn4 The indictment specifically alleges that Spaccia drafted the employment contract for Adams, and sent Adams an e-mail indicating, " 'We have crafted our Agreements carefully so we do not draw attention to our pay.' " The indictment further alleges that Spaccia and Rizzo secreted Adams's employment contract, and that they also secreted an agreement indicating that Adams qualified for, and would be filing for, a medical disability pension upon his retirement from the City. The indictment alleges that Rizzo and Spaccia misappropriated public funds in the amount of the salary the City paid Adams pursuant to his contract, on the basis that the contract was unlawfully executed in violation of the City Charter.*fn5 It further alleges that Rizzo and Spaccia falsified Adams's purported contracts.*fn6 We note that the indictment does not allege that any of the terms of Adams's contracts were per se illegal;*fn7 the indictment instead alleges that the contracts were illegally executed (on behalf of the City), falsified, and secreted.

2. Spaccia's Motion to Recuse the District Attorney's Office

On January 3, 2012, Spaccia*fn8 moved to recuse the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office,*fn9 arguing that the purported involvement of persons within the district attorney's office in the transaction which resulted in Adams being hired by the City created an impermissible conflict of interest. Spaccia further argued that this involvement would result, and had in fact resulted, in her receiving unfair treatment at the hands of the district attorney's office.

In order to demonstrate the existence of a conflict, Spaccia relied on two pieces of evidence: (1) a declaration from Spaccia herself; and (2) an excerpt from a complaint Adams had filed in a civil action against the City. Spaccia's declaration explained that she had been "an intermediary" in the negotiations between Rizzo and Adams which resulted in Adams being hired as the City's Chief of Police. She stated, "During these negotiations, Randy Adams told me that he had spoken with Steve Cooley, the District Attorney of Los Angeles, and discussed his plan of becoming the Chief of Police of the City of Bell. Randy Adams told me that he wanted to check out the City of Bell to make sure there were no issues and that he discussed with Cooley the salary he would receive. Cooley responded that he knew of no problems at Bell and that if they wanted to pay you that much money you should take it."*fn10 To confirm the truth of her declaration, Spaccia relied on an excerpt from a complaint Adams purportedly filed against the City of Bell.*fn11 In that complaint, Adams alleged that, during the course of his negotiations with Rizzo and Spaccia, he "contacted the Los Angeles County District Attorney['s] office to inquire as to the propriety of the City's offer. Personnel from the Los Angeles County District Attorney['s] office encouraged Adams to accept the City's offer of employment." Based on her declaration and this excerpt, Spaccia argued that the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office "was involved in the very transaction which forms the basis" of several counts of the indictment against her. Thus, she argued, a conflict of interest has been established.*fn12

Spaccia also argued that she could not receive fair treatment in this case due to the conflict and that, in fact, she has already been treated unfairly. Specifically, Spaccia argued that Adams is a critical witness who could provide testimony that would exonerate her. Spaccia took the position that the district attorney's office has "skew[ed] the entire investigation away from" Adams and failed "even to interview Randy Adams,"*fn13 which has allegedly "made her defense more difficult." Spaccia's motion argued, "If . . . Adams had been called to the Grand Jury and testified, [Spaccia] may not have been indicted. Had . . . Adams been interviewed, that exculpatory interview would have to have been made available to the Grand Jury. If . . . Adams had been indicted, it is likely he would testify at trial and exonerate . . . Spaccia."*fn14

Spaccia's motion was not supported by any declaration from Adams himself as to the identity of the person to whom he spoke at the district attorney's office during contract negotiations. Spaccia instead sought an evidentiary hearing in support of her motion, and subpoenaed Adams to appear at the hearing. It was believed that Adams might invoke his Fifth Amendment privilege not to testify,*fn15 and Spaccia suggested that, if he did, the prosecution should grant him limited immunity for the recusal hearing.

3. The Hearing and Ruling on the Motion

After the Attorney General filed an opposition to the motion,*fn16 a hearing was held. At the hearing, the argument quickly became focused on the issue of whether Spaccia had introduced sufficient evidence to justify an evidentiary hearing. Specifically, Spaccia argued that her declaration and the excerpts from Adams's complaint constituted prima facie evidence that participation of the district attorney's office in the underlying transaction required recusal. Therefore, she urged, further inquiry of Adams was justified. Specifically, Spaccia asserted that it was necessary to inquire of Adams as to the identity of the individual with whom he had spoken in the district attorney's office. Spaccia conceded that Adams's complaint indicated that he had spoken only with "personnel" at the district attorney's office, but noted that her own declaration indicated that Adams told her that he had spoken with District Attorney Cooley himself.*fn17 Spaccia took the position that the only way of finding out the identity of the individual to whom Adams had spoken was to elicit the testimony from Adams.*fn18 Spaccia conceded that, even if Adams had spoken with District Attorney Cooley, the conversation might have been a "casual" conversation "of no import." Thus, Spaccia sought to question Adams not only on the identity of the person with whom he spoke, but as to the content of the conversation as well.*fn19

The trial court concluded that even if Adams had spoken to District Attorney Cooley himself, and District Attorney Cooley had encouraged Adams to take the Chief of Police position, this would not establish a conflict that would justify recusal of the entire district attorney's office. As such, the trial ...


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