Constitutional Law

Judge: Calif. AG May Not Be Right Guy to Sue re High-Pay Bell Officials Awarded Themselves


The state attorney general may not have the power to contest the high salaries and loans that officials in a California city awarded to themselves, a Los Angeles County judge said yesterday.

While his ruling yesterday wasn’t final, Judge Ralph Dau said he doubts city lawmakers in Bell can be sued over such legislative decision-making, reports the Los Angeles Times.

However, the doubts expressed by Dau about the civil suit aren’t expected to derail a pending criminal misappropriation case against public officials in Bell. The defendants pleaded not guilty today, in a case concerning high pay they awarded to themselves for working on municipal commissions and boards that rarely met, reports the L.A. Now blog of the Los Angeles Times.

“We have a separation of powers not only between the three branches but between local and state government,” veteran municipal attorney Michael Colantuono tells the newspaper, calling the lawsuit “a creative effort to right a wrong.”

It isn’t clear, however, that seeking to recover allegedly excessive salary payments from the lawmakers who authorized them is a proper remedy—or, even if it is, that the AG is the proper person to seek to impose it, Colantuono continues.

“I think what the judge might be saying is the attorney general isn’t the one who gets to decide what’s right and wrong in Bell,” he says, noting that an individual taxpayer in Bell might be likelier to succeed with such civil litigation.

Earlier coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Eight High-Salaried Officials in LA Suburb Arrested for Alleged Misappropriation”

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