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Judge says ‘all hell has broken loose,’ declares partial mistrial for high-paid Bell officials

Posted Mar 22, 2013 9:27 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Noting juror dissension, a California judge declared a partial mistrial on Thursday in the prosecution of Bell municipal officials accused of overpaying themselves by sitting on city commissions and boards that did little work.

After jurors sent notes to the judge indicating troubles during deliberations, Judge Kathleen Kennedy declared a mistrial on undecided charges, report the Los Angeles Times blog LA Now and the Associated Press. AP says jurors were deadlocked on 42 counts, while the corrected LA Now story says the mistrial was declared on only 10 counts, not 42.

"It seems to me all hell has broken loose," Kennedy said. "I'm getting the sense that the lines of communication have broken down between each and every one of you."

On Wednesday, jurors acquitted former councilman Luis Artiga of all charges. They convicted former Mayor Oscar Hernandez and four other council members on misappropriation charges related to money they received as members of the Solid Waste and Recycling Authority, but acquitted them on charges related to money received from the Public Finance Authority, LA Now says.

Prosecutors had alleged the officials earned nearly $100,000 a year in a city where about one in four of its 36,000 residents live below the poverty line.

Several juror notes to the judge indicated trouble in deliberations. One of them read: "I respectfully ask if you could please remind the jury to remain respectful and not to make false accusations and insults to one another.” Another juror previously indicated in a note that the jury may have reached an improper guilty verdict “due to the pressure and stress of the deliberation process.”

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