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Friday, February 23, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Another Ex-Official Sues City of Bell

LOS ANGELES (CN) - A second top city official who lost her job when her enormous salary was revealed has sued Bell, claiming it fired her in breach of contract. Like her former boss City Manager Robert Rizzo, former assistant city manager Pier Angela Spaccia sued pro se in Superior Court.

Spaccia claims the city had no cause to fire her and wants back pay and costs for defending herself from civil and criminal charges.

Like Rizzo, who sued Bell on Monday, Spaccia says the city failed to give 30-day notice before firing her, and that her contract allowed firing only for "conviction of a felony or crime involving moral turpitude," or by mutual agreement.

Bell Councilman Rick Valencia told Courthouse News that Rizzo and Spaccia want to get away with "legal robbery."

"This has to stop. They are holding the citizens hostage with their lawsuits," Valencia said.

He said that while Rizzo's action came as no shock he was surprised Spaccia followed him.

"I never expected her to come back and screw us over again because she seemed genuinely sorry," Valencia said.

Bell, a Los Angeles suburb of about 36,000, made national headlines last year when the salaries of its top officials were revealed. State auditors found that the city's six highest-paid administrators received combined annual salaries of $6 million.

As assistant chief administrative officer, Spaccia earned $376,000 a year. Rizzo's base salary of nearly $800,000 was almost twice the salary of the U.S. president.

Four of Bell's five-member council were paid more than $100,000 a year for their part-time jobs. Mayor Oscar Hernandez and the four council members all resigned or were recalled.

Former Police Chief Randy Adams also sued Bell for legal costs in early October. His $457,000 salary was 50 percent higher than the salary of the Los Angeles police chief.

The eye-popping salaries put the blue-collar town on the brink of bankruptcy.

In her complaint, Spaccia says the city owes her severance pay, unused sick and vacation days, retirement pay, health care benefits and life insurance.

"In our about July of 2010, the attorney for the city negotiated an agreement with plaintiff pertaining to the termination of her employment with the city, which included salary and other various benefits. However, the city failed to perform the terms of that agreement. In or about August of 2010, the city unlawfully stopped compensating plaintiff," her complaint states.

It continues: "On or about August 24, 2010, plaintiff received an undated letter from the city confirming her 'voluntary resignation' as assistant chief administrative officer which would become effective on September 30, 2010. However, plaintiff had not voluntarily resigned as the letter stated. Rather, this letter constructively and or impliedly terminated plaintiff's employment with the city."

The California attorney general sued Spaccia, Rizzo and other Bell officials on Sept. 15, 2010. The Los Angeles district attorney filed criminal charges against Spaccia and Rizzo that month.

In May 2011, Superior Court Judge Ralph Dau sustained Spaccia's demurrer and rejected the civil claims against her, her co-defendants and the city.

Spaccia says she's been burdened with "substantial costs and legal fees" and that the city has rejected her claim for indemnification.

In March a Los Angeles County grand jury indicted Rizzo and Spaccia on new charges of misappropriating public funds, conflict of interest, and falsifying and hiding public documents.

Spaccia's criminal defense lawyer Harland Braun told Courthouse News his client wanted to hold her claims in "abeyance" before the statute of limitations ran.

"Her right to reimbursement is contingent on her being acquitted on the criminal charges against her," Braun said.

Spaccia seeks damages for breach of contract, contractual indemnity, statutory indemnity, implied indemnity, equitable indemnity, declaratory relief and Labor Code violations.

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