Expert Panelists Include Academics, Journalists, Elected Officials, Attorneys and Citizen Activists

Mary Platt
Director of Communications and Media Relations
Chapman University

ORANGE, Calif., January 28, 2015 – Chapman University will present a day-long conference examining the City of Bell scandal on Thursday, February 19 from 9 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.  The conference, which is free and open to the public, will take place in Argyros Forum 209 on the Chapman campus.   Panelists will include elected officials, academics, citizen activists and attorneys, and some of the top journalists involved in reporting the scandal, including Los Angeles Times investigative reporter Jeff Gottlieb, who, along with his colleague Ruben Vives, uncovered and broke the story in 2010, winning a Pulitzer Prize for their efforts.  Other panelists include John Chiang, treasurer of the State of California; Teri Sforza, local government reporter for the Orange County Register; Doug Willmore, current Bell city manager; Anthony Taylor, lead counsel for the City of Bell during the scandal-related litigation; James Spertus, the attorney who represented Bell city manager Robert Rizzo; and Jennifer Rodgers, executive director of the Center for Public Integrity at Columbia University, among others.  The conference is made possible due to a generous grant from the Fieldstead Foundation.

The conference is free, but attendees should register in advance at

“The City of Bell Scandal Revisited” will delve into the Bell fiasco in depth, from varied angles.  “The scandal in Bell was the largest municipal corruption scandal – in terms of the number of investigations and the international press it prompted – in state history,” said conference coordinator Fred Smoller, Ph.D., professor of political science at Chapman University.  “And what happened in Bell didn’t stay in Bell.  It has implications for all local government.  All of us need to understand Bell’s lessons so we can prevent similar things from happening in our own communities. “

“Corruption on steroids” is what Los Angeles District Attorney Steven L. Cooley called the scandal in Bell, California, a working-class community of 35,000 people in Los Angeles County, which unfolded through several years in the late 2000s. City Manager Robert Rizzo was being paid a total of $1.5 million dollars in wages and benefits, and the assistant city manager, Angela Spaccia, and police chief Randy Adams were making more than $500,000 in salaries and benefits—far more than their counterparts in neighboring cities.

Both Rizzo and Spaccia received lengthy prison sentences and were ordered to pay millions of dollars in restitution. Adams was forced to resign.   Bell’s city council members who received $100,000-a-year salaries—grossly more than what other city council members make—pleaded no contest to criminal charges. They also agreed to pay the city a total of nearly $1 million in restitution.

“It’s incumbent upon us, while our memories are still fresh, to figure out what went wrong in Bell so future scandals can be prevented,” said Smoller.  “It is very unusual – and probably unprecedented – at an academic conference to have the activists who made the revolution, the journalists who uncovered the scandal, and the attorneys who defended and prosecuted the defendants sit together with academics to discuss the important issues raised by this scandal.  We have selected a very different and unique approach in studying it.”

In addition to their conference presentations, many of the panelists have written white papers that will be published on a website, serving as an informational repository for the scandal.

CONFIRMED PANELISTS (more information and biographies):

  • Jeff Gottlieb, senior writer for the Los Angeles Times
  • Ali Saleh, councilman and former mayor, City of Bell
  • Cristina Garcia, assemblywoman
  • Teri Sforza, local government and “watchdog” reporter for the Orange County Register
  • Tom Hogen-Esch, Ph.D., associate professor of political science, California State University Northridge
  • John C. Eastman, J.D., Ph.D., professor, Dale E. Fowler School of Law at Chapman University
  • John Chiang, treasurer for the State of California
  • Joe Mathews, author and journalist
  • Doug Willmore, city manager of Bell
  • H. George Frederickson, Ph.D., professor of public administration (Emeritus), University of Kansas
  • Jennifer G. Rodgers, executive director, Center for Public Integrity, Columbia University
  • Harland W. Braun, J.D., defended Angela Spaccia, Bell’s assistant city manager
  • David Aleshire, J.D., founding partner, Aleshire & Wynder, LLP, city attorney for Bell
  • Anthony R. Taylor, J.D., partner – Aleshire & Wynder, LLP, attorney for the City of Bell
  • James W. Spertus, managing partner at Spertus, Landes & Umhofer, LLP in Los Angeles
  • Steve Cooley, served as the 41st District Attorney of Los Angeles County

Panel Moderators and Introductions:

  • Fred Smoller, Ph.D., associate professor of political science, Chapman University
  • Tom Campbell, J.D., Ph.D., dean of Dale E. Fowler School of Law at Chapman University
  • John Compton, assistant professor of political science, Chapman University
  • Michael Moodian, Ph.D., associate professor of social science, Brandman University; adjunct faculty member, College of Educational Studies, Chapman University
  • Kenneth A. Stahl, professor of land use, real properties and local government law, Dale E. Fowler School of Law at Chapman University

Consistently ranked among the top universities in the West, Chapman University provides a uniquely personalized and interdisciplinary educational experience to highly qualified students. Our programs encourage innovation, creativity and collaboration, and focus on developing global citizen-leaders who are distinctively prepared to improve their community and their world.

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