Brown’s lawsuit puts Bell’s city attorney in tough spot

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“The city needs an attorney whose name doesn’t appear in scandal sheets, someone the city and its people can buy into,” he said. “To have someone with a cloudy past doesn’t inspire confidence.”

Mr. Casso’s ties to current and former Bell officials also raise questions about conflicts of interest.

He was handpicked to be city attorney by Bell City Administrator Pedro Carrillo, who replaced former city administrator Robert Rizzo after revelations that Mr. Rizzo was making an $800,000 annual salary.

Mr. Carrillo, an early apologist for the high salaries, once worked for Mr. Rizzo and collected campaign contributions from him during a failed 2002 bid for the California Assembly.

Prior to that, Mr. Carrillo and Mr. Casso served together in Washington as top aides to members of Congress from California.

Cristina Garcia, a local activist with the group BASTA - the Bell Association to Stop the Abuse - said she was particularly concerned that Mr. Casso’s city attorney contract has him billing the city by the hour for his services. It also allows him to bring in staff members that can bill the city on an hourly basis with no cap on expenses.

Mr. Casso resigned from a position as city attorney in the nearby city of Pico Rivera in 2007 amid statements by city officials that he quit rather than be fired. The Whittier Daily News reported that the city had to transfer $381,000 into the city attorney’s budget just to make it through the year.

But his service has also been criticized in other cities he represented.

In Lynwood, Calif., where he was appointed interim city attorney in 2003 after officials there were besieged by criminal fraud allegations, Mr. Casso drew fire for resisting a recall effort against a councilman who later was convicted in federal court. Mr. Casso was accused in that instance of thwarting the will of the voters, according to news reports.

Mr. Casso insisted that his legal judgment is never clouded by political considerations.

“I’m never afraid to give advice on any legal matter and I don’t take politics into consideration,” he said. “If they like my advice, fine. If not, we move on. My job is to provide the best unvarnished legal advice possible.”

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