Attorneys for a former Industry city manager will argue before a jury that their client was deprived of his constitutional rights during a preliminary hearing that determined he should stand trial in connection with a $20 million embezzlement scandal, according to new court filings.
The attorneys, Joe Weimortz and Steve Cooley, allege former Industry and Bell administrator Paul Philips was denied his right to due process because the judge barred witnesses from testifying about confidential discussions protected by attorney-client privilege or that occurred during the City Council’s closed session meetings.
The filing alleges the ruling prevented potentially exonerating evidence from being presented during Philips’ lengthy preliminary hearing, which ran sporadically from February until he was ordered to stand trial in October. Throughout the case, an attorney for the Industry raised objections whenever any topic began to veer into those forbidden areas. According to court records, privilege was invoked 39 times during the hearing to shut down testimony.
Following a hearing Wednesday, Nov. 16, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Ronald Coen scheduled a jury panel in January to review the matter, according to Cooley.
“This motion is asking the trial judge to either partially or entirely dismiss the criminal complaint,” Cooley said.
During the preliminary hearing, Industry’s refusal to waive closed-session privilege — something the City Council could do at any time with a majority vote — obstructed both the defense and the prosecution’s questioning.
Deputy District Attorney Ana Marie Lopez, in a written opposition to the defense motion, disagreed with the argument that Philips was denied his rights. Philips and his attorneys were allowed to present evidence during a closed hearing — that excluded the public, the prosecution and Industry’s attorneys — before Judge Michael Pastor, who presided over the preliminary hearing. Pastor, however, ruled the defense did not meet the burden necessary for him to allow Philips to pierce the confidentiality requirements protected by state law.
The defense also failed to take the necessary steps to challenge the excluded testimony during the preliminary hearing, Lopez wrote.
“Defendant did not ask to recall any witness or request an in-camera hearing to establish the materiality of any witnesses’ excluded testimony,” she wrote.
Philips, who led Industry from 2015 to 2018, is accused of assisting developer William Barkett and a consultant, former state Sen. Frank Hill, in an alleged scheme to pilfer funds from a proposed solar farm project. Philips is charged with misappropriation of public funds, embezzlement and money laundering. The last two charges were added after the preliminary hearing ended and are based on Philips’ alleged assistance with those crimes. No evidence was presented during the preliminary hearing to indicate he personally received any of the stolen funds.
The pitch to build a 450-megawatt solar farm on land Industry owned between Diamond Bar and Chino Hills was first secretly approved in closed session in May 2016 and was not voted on publicly until more than a year later.
Philips’ attorneys have alleged the former city manager merely followed the council’s orders.
By the time the project fell apart, Industry had paid out $20 million to San Gabriel Valley Water and Power, a company owned by Barkett and Hill, with very little oversight. Investigators later determined that invoices submitted to the city for reimbursement had been noticeably altered or outright forged, resulting in millions of dollars in overspending.
Barkett, the developer, is alleged to have spent more than $8 million of the funds on personal matters, including his daughter’s lavish wedding in the French Riviera.
Barkett, Hill and attorney Anthony Bouza, who served as the city’s negotiator even though Barkett owed him $1.5 million, have yet to begin their preliminary hearings. They previously pleaded not guilty to the various charges against them in March 2022.
Source: Orange County Register