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How Much Do L.A. County Cities Spend on Fighting Legal Battles?

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Are our local cities paying the price for legal troubles? A data set compiled and released by the L.A. Times ranks spending on city attorneys in the 88 cities in Los Angeles County.

"At­tor­neys’ fees con­sume less than 1% of the 2010 budgets in nearly half the county’s cit­ies, an av­er­age of about $25 per res­id­ent," notes the Times, adding: "A hand­ful of cit­ies spend three to four times that much."

The Times' data reflects city spending from 2005 through 2010, "ex­pressed as a per­cent­age of the city’s op­er­at­ing and re­devel­op­ment budgets and per cap­ita."

Perhaps not surprisingly, the City of Los Angeles is the biggest, and the biggest spender when it comes to what we pour from civic coffers into the City Attorney's office: Nearly $133M a year. (Long Beach comes in second in annual City Attorney costs at $11.5M.) However, in the City of L.A., that's a per capita amount of just $29, which puts us close to the bottom of the spectrum.

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In a total reverse of what we find in Los Angeles, Vernon has had a few spendy years. Annual City Attorney costs come in at $10,625,650, in third place behind Long Beach, but has the lowest population in the county, at a mere 114. (Yeah, seriously, 114). Okay, don't worry about your math whiz skills, the Times did the division: That's a whopping $98,234 per capita annually. Egads.


How does City Attorney spending get so jacked up? The Times says, clearly, it's thanks to corruption. And that corruption is a fiscal gift that keeps on taking: "In some cases, the legal bills continue years after officials accused of corruption have been ousted or jailed, leaving the affected cities struggling beneath a heavy burden."

It's not really that the cities have to spend money to defend accused city employees; those folks have to get their own lawyers. Instead, the costs come from cities having to head to court to battle cases stemming from the corruption.

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Another thing to consider when looking at the data is how much of the city budget pie does the city attorney swallow up. When it comes to Vernon, for example, they rank fifth, since those aforementioned big costs take up 3.8% of the annual city budget. The four cities whose budgets yield more to city attorney costs are Signal Hill, Hawthorne, Bradbury, and Hermosa Beach.


Here's something to think about, if you're a City of L.A. resident: While we spent the most in the County on annual city attorney costs, we're only spending 1.0% of our city budget to do so.