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Defense Lawyer: California Mayor Too Uneducated to Realize He Was Breaking the Law


NR readers may remember Oscar Hernandez, the former mayor of Bell, Calif., who was led away in handcuffs from his home in September 2010 after authorities knocked his door down with a battering ram. Dan Foster reported at the time on how Bell’s leaders had bled the small working-class city dry in part by voting themselves six-figure salaries to serve on boards of fabricated commissions with essentially no business to conduct. It turns out that Hernandez and his compatriots broke quite a few laws in the process, and they are now facing trial and possible imprisonment. Hernandez’s lawyer contends that the former mayor didn’t know any better:

The unschooled and illiterate former mayor of the scandal-ridden suburban city of Bell had no training that would have alerted him that his huge salary was illegal, his lawyer told a jury in closing arguments.

Former Mayor Oscar Hernandez didn’t have a college or high school degree and didn’t even finish elementary school, defense attorney Stanley Friedman said at the corruption trial. . . .

Friedman argued Thursday that financial advisers hired by the city could have informed Hernandez that salaries being paid to council members were illegal, but no one did that.

“They didn’t say, `Stop in the name of the law. These salaries are illegal,’” he said.

One might assume that someone holding elected office could rightly be held responsible for knowing the law. But Friedman thinks this clearly isn’t what Americans expect or want from politicians:

He added that Hernandez was known around town for being willing to listen to everyone’s problems. Like many other politicians of simple backgrounds, he wasn’t required to be scholarly to be mayor, he said.

“We elect people who have a good heart. Someone who can listen to your problems and look you in the eye,” Friedman said. “There are a lot of elected officials who may not be the most scholarly. We had a vice president of the United States who didn’t know how to spell potato.”

Friedman did not explain what level of scholarship would have equipped Hernandez to understand where he had erred.


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