The Los Angeles Times reported this week that a judge refused to order the City of Bell to cover Robert Rizzo’s legal costs. Rizzo, formerly the City’s top administrator, is being sued by Bell for illegally using public funds for personal gain. Rizzo reportedly earned $1.5 million a year in total compensation in one of Los Angeles County’s poorest cities.
Rizzo is among eight former Bell city officials accused of conspiring to defraud the municipality of millions of dollars through hefty salaries, benefits and illicit loans of public money. In addition to Rizzo’s compensation package mentioned above, it is reported that four other council members receive six figure salaries to run a city of only 40,000 people. On top of the City’s civil suit, the group faces numerous criminal charges of fraud.
Regardless of the merit of these allegations, Bell may still be required to pay Rizzo’s defense costs. The Daily Comet reports, Rizzo’s 1996 employment agreement with the city requires the city to indemnify his legal cost related to the source and scope of his employment. Rizzo’s lawyer argues that the allegation against his client relate to him abusing the powers of his office, which is clearly in the scope of his employment. Conversely, Bell’s attorney argues that Rizzo’s actions were for his own personal gain and should not constitute city business.
After considering both arguments Judge Dau refused to order the City to pay Rizzo’s attorney’s fee, leaving the question as to whether Rizzo was acting in the scope of employee for the jury to decide.