LOS ANGELES – A juror in the trial of a former Bell mayor and five ex-City Council members was dismissed today for doing research on the Internet and talking to her daughter about what she called “the abuse I have suffered from the other jurors,” who indicated they were deadlocked in their fifth day of deliberations.
Picking from among four ping-pong balls placed in a Los Angeles Dodgers helmet, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kathleen Kennedy chose one of the four remaining alternates — a woman — to take the place of the ousted juror.
The judge this afternoon instructed the seven-woman, five-man panel to “begin your deliberations all over again” in the case of former Mayor Oscar Hernandez and former council members Teresa Jacobo, George Mirabal, Victor Bello, Luis Artiga and George Cole, who are charged with misappropriating public funds.
The reconstituted jury is due back in court Friday morning to resume deliberations.
After the judge was informed through a note from another juror that now- ousted juror number 3 had told the group that she had contacted an attorney about being coerced to return a verdict a certain way, she told the judge that she used the word attorney — though she had not spoken to a lawyer — “so they would leave me alone.”
Shortly before being dismissed, the woman said she had consulted a legal website online.
“I was on there looking to see at what point can I get the harassment to stop,” the ousted juror said, questioning how long she had to “stay in there and deliberate with them when I’ve made my decision.”
The woman — who had asked to be taken off the jury Monday during the second day of deliberations — said she had spoken with her daughter about the way she was treated by other jurors. She said she asked her daughter to look up the word coercion — a definition of which she had brought to court in her purse.
She said her daughter told her, “Mom, they’re trying to find a weak link. Just be patient. You’ll be fine.”
Just before dismissing the woman from the jury, the judge said, “It seems fairly clear to the court that juror number 3 has engaged in misconduct,” noting that she has repeatedly warned jurors not to do any outside research.
The judge said the conduct was “simply not acceptable,” but told the juror while dismissing her that “you’re not in trouble.”
The woman appeared emotional as she walked out of the courtroom for the last time without returning to the jury room where the remainder of the panel was waiting.
Her dismissal came shortly after attorneys were summoned to court in response to a note signed by two jurors who said there were “fundamental disagreements” among the panelists and that it did not appear a verdict could be reached.
Jurors were not questioned about that note.
Outside the jury’s presence after the juror was dismissed and before the alternate was named, the judge said the deadlock was “no longer in play” because there were only 11 jurors to be questioned at the time and a jury must be comprised of 12 people.
Before the case went to the jury last Friday, Deputy District Attorney Edward Miller told them that the defendants “want to fool you just like they fooled the city of Bell.”
Miller contends that the defendants were paid illegal salaries that reached $100,000 for sitting on four city boards — the Community Housing Authority, Surplus Property Authority, Public Financing Authority and Solid Waste and Recycling Authority — that rarely met. In any event, sitting on those boards were “part and parcel” of their city council duties, he said.
Defense attorneys maintain that their clients have been wrongly accused, arguing they worked diligently for the city and earned their salaries.
“I think the acquittals here should be across the board,” Mirabal’s attorney, Alex Kessel, told jurors during his closing argument last week.
Hernandez, 65, Jacobo, 55, and Mirabal, 63, are each charged with 20 counts of misappropriating public funds between January 2006 and July 2010; Bello, 54, is charged with 16 counts of misappropriation between January 2006 and December 2009; Artiga, 52, is charged with 12 counts of misappropriation between January 2008 and July 2010; and Cole, 63, is charged with eight counts of misappropriation between January 2006 and December 2007.
Former city manager Robert Rizzo is awaiting trial separately, along with former assistant Angela Spaccia, on corruption-related charges.