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Suspended L.A. Councilman José Huizar May Need New Defense Attorneys In Corruption Trial

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Suspended L.A. City Councilmember José Huizar leaves federal court in downtown Los Angeles. He appeared along with federal public defenders for a trial setting hearing. (Libby Denkmann/LAist)
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Suspended L.A. City Councilman José Huizar will have to prove he needs a federal public defender before his corruption trial can proceed, a federal judge said today.

During a hearing to set a trial date, Judge John F. Walter asked Huizar and his attorneys to provide a complete balance sheet laying out his financial status, including home equity, proceeds from a rental property and any liabilities.

Huizar’s initial application for public counsel was denied in June, but on July 24 a magistrate judge ordered the appointment of taxpayer-funded attorneys and required the councilman to contribute $3,000 a month for his defense.

Huizar appeared in-person in the courtroom in downtown Los Angeles, just a block from City Hall, where he once chaired the council’s powerful Planning and Land Use Management Committee. He now faces dozens of racketeering charges, including money laundering, bribery, wire fraud and falsifying financial reports.

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Prosecutors say Huizar accepted $1.5 million in gifts, campaign donations and cash bribes to clear the way for major development projects in his downtown district. He pleaded “not guilty” on Monday.

Judge Walter set a “placeholder” trial date of Sept. 29, 2020 -- but acknowledged that is unlikely to happen. Huizar’s new attorneys need time to familiarize themselves with the case, and evidence processing and discovery are currently slowed by coronavirus safety precautions.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Mack Jenkins confirmed during the hearing that he plans to call “40-50” witnesses, including members of Huizar’s family. Four defendants have already pleaded guilty in connection to the investigation, including former Councilman Mitch Englander. They are all cooperating with prosecutors.

A 113-page criminal complaint released last month implicated at least three Huizar relatives in activities that include money laundering, but, Jenkins said, “we currently have no plans to charge them.”

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We have reached out to the Federal Public Defender’s office in Los Angeles for more information about the financial threshold required to qualify for public counsel.

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