Fox 11 Legal Analyst: Bell Trial Openings 'Riveting' - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

Fox 11 Legal Analyst: Bell Trial Openings 'Riveting'

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Bell, CA -

I came into court today on my old stomping grounds to watch the six defendants of the City of Bell begin their trial.

Like most people when I think of sexy crime cases I think murder, drugs, stalking or rapes. Along those lines when I hear the words "misappropriation" and see thick stacks of paper and a case built all around "city funds", my eyes begin to glaze over.

With that prospective in mind, I have to say today's opening statements completely exceeded my expectations and were actually riveting.

Opening statements are not evidence and not argument -- they are simply the attorneys' version of what the evidence in the trial will show (excuse the cliche but it's often referred to as a road map). Opening began with prosecutor Edward Miller who had a power point prepared (same background screen as the ones I used with the scale of justice).

Read More: Bell Trial Prosecutor: Officials Stole Over $1.3 Million

What he did was distill mounds of paper -- five years' worth of alleged misappropriation, six defendants, and 20 counts into less than 40 minutes of succinct understandable road map of his case. The only word that could come to mind in hearing the prosecution's version was: Chazer. Chazer in Yiddish means "pig."

Miller described what appeared to be gluttonous council members who met for minutes and were paid thousands upon thousands of dollars. He (very effectively) turned the City of Bell scandal into a succinct math problem: $334,196.96 in taxpayer dollars for two minutes of time.

At one point, Miller made it extremely easy for those of us sitting in the courtroom who are math challenged. Miller said he would spend more time in his opening statement than the council members spent working in a year.

Point made.

"What does the defense do with that?" One reporter asked me on my way out the door clearly feeling that the prosecution has a slam dunk case. Not so fast, people. There are six (count them six lawyers whom each will give their version) of what occurred. And, like the prosecution, the defense laid out their road map in their opening statements.

The theme from the attorneys were pretty much in sync from one defense lawyer to the next  saying there is much that the prosecution did not say (like there was a city attorney present at each council meeting and approved everything); that the council members like the citizens of Bell were all duped by Rizzo; and that the very nature of Bell (being a charter city) created latitude in and allowed the council members the room to think that they were acting reasonably and could never imagine what was going on. In the end, the one clear defense plan comes down to the tried and true S.O.D.D.I. (Some Other Dude Did It) strategy.  And, Rizzo is that dude.  

Since the attorneys have now given the jurors their roadmap, I have my own thoughts for how the trial should play out. Whatever the evidence will show, it should be shown as clear and as simple as possible.  I think the jurors will thank you if the attorneys keep  the acronym that we all know but rarely use in mind.  K.I.S.S. (KEEP IT SIMPLE STUPID). While you need to prove your case and state the evidence, make it simple, easy, digestible, and relevant. If I glaze over easily, imagine what the jurors (who do not live and breathe crime) think.

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