@THE GUSS REPORT-Disgraced LA City Councilmember Jose Huizar and his wife Richelle Rios Huizar (photo above) both have law degrees from the UCLA School of Law, which U.S. News and World Report ranks as the 15th best in the United States.
A few decades into their careers they should now be rolling in cash and for a while, according to the federal RICO/racketeering charges filed against him last week, it seems that they were, but not in a favorable, legal way.
Before we delve, let’s be abundantly clear that Mr. Huizar has only been charged with federal corruption crimes. He hasn’t been found guilty and he hasn’t pled guilty to anything. And Mrs. Huizar has not been charged with any crime whatsoever, as of this date.
But as the curtain finally publicly rises on the federal case against him, the questions this column has are not only whether she will testify against him, but also whether he can prevent her from doing so.
California’s rules on spouses testifying against one another is nuanced and dependent upon a variety of factors, including whether the proceeding is civil or criminal; would the spouse testify about spoken spousal communications as opposed to something a wife may have visually witnessed, such as seeing a spouse hide bundles of cash in their closet.
Then there’s this factor: what if both spouses are charged with crimes? Would a wife be able to defend herself against charges if it means having to provide testimony that incriminates her husband?
And let’s throw this wrench into the machinery: As Jose Huizar allegedly plotted his RICO/racketeering crimes did he deliberately structure them so that they are shielded by spousal testimony privilege?
Oh, to be a fly on the wall in the Huizar breakfast nook . . .
These are things we will eagerly keep an eye on in the coming months as the Huizars cope with the weight of the federal government descending upon them through the FBI and U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna.
While that plays out, the question this column raises with you today is this: has Mrs. Huizar had enough of Mr. Huizar to the point where she may cut ties with him to save her freedom, the future of their family and her own license to practice law? The reasons she may have for doing so are extensive and compelling.
- Jose Huizar publicly humiliated Richelle Huizar with affairs with office staffers.
Dial the clock back a few years and you will see that Mr. Huizar dodged and denied the question of whether he had sexual relationships with members of his office staff. Eventually, those denials became admissions that he did, but that they were consensual sexual relationships rather than coerced for things like promotions, political endorsements, and the like.
- He used their money and assets to settle sexual harassment lawsuits.
It is bad enough that Mr. Huizar was eventually forced to publicly settle those claims, but adding insult to injury is the fact that their community assets, including proceeds from a recently sold house, were allegedly used to resolve those cases, given that those funds belonged to Mrs. Huizar, as well.
- He allegedly kept humiliating her with more affairs.
A recent filing further accuses Mr. Huizar of receiving, among other things, hotel rooms for ongoing “discreet encounters with a woman with whom he was having an affair.”
- His alleged misconduct forced her to abruptly kill her short-lived campaign to succeed him.
In September 2018, Richelle Huizar announced her campaign to succeed her husband when he terms-out. In October, the two sexual harassment lawsuits against him were filed. In November, the FBI raided his City Hall offices and their home. While the LA Times said she was the leading candidate to succeed him, the weight of his chaos forced her to abruptly kill her campaign.
- If he is convicted of any of the charges, he may lose his freedom and his law license.
With federal prosecutors portraying Mr. Huizar as the alleged kingpin of LA City Hall corruption and looking at up to 20 years in federal prison, what are the odds that he will be acquitted of each allegation? Let’s reverse that question: if he is convicted of any of them, he will likely be disbarred and lose his ability to practice law, and that’s for whenever he is out of prison, which looks like an increasingly likely scenario for him in the future.
In other words, if things are as bleak as they seem for Mr. Huizar, there may be no financial incentive for Mrs. Huizar to invoke her spousal privilege to not testify against him.
- Will the feds dangle her own freedom and law license to induce her to testify?
To reiterate, Richelle Rios Huizar has not been charged with even a single crime and it is pure speculation about whether she ever will be charged or not. Only the federal government knows the inside story. But as it cuts deals with Jose Huizar’s associates inside and out of LA City Hall, it will determine whether it has enough on her to induce her to waive her spousal testimony privilege.
As stated above, if Jose Huizar is convicted or cuts a plea deal that results in him going to federal prison and/or losing his license to practice law, she may become solely responsible for providing for their still-young family and that largely depends on her ability to retain her law license. And that will largely depend on what the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office say and do.
It is a tragically uncomfortable subject, but one that becomes more worrisome with each prosecutorial filing.
- What was the nature of her work at Vanderford & Ruiz?
In a recent column, the LA Times reported that “Richelle Huizar is identified in filings only as ‘Relative A-1’ – an unnamed relative of the councilman who worked for a law firm and as a high school fundraiser, who launched a campaign in September 2018 to succeed him. Those biographical details all match up with Richelle Huizar.” The Times also reported, “in 2007 Mrs. Huizar secured a job with Vanderford & Ruiz, where she continued working for more than a decade.”
Oh, but leave it to the LA Times to leave out the important detail . . .
Richelle Huizar passed the California Bar in the last few days of 1996 and went on Inactive status, meaning that she could not practice law, as of June 2000. She remained ineligible to practice law for all but ten months of the next 17 years.
Her employment with the law firm Vanderford & Ruiz presumably started somewhere between August 9, 2007, when she went back on Active status and the end of the year, since the Times wrote that her employment lasted for a decade, starting in 2007.
What the Times didn’t report is that just ten months later, Mrs. Huizar went back on Inactive status for the duration of her employment at the firm, starting on June 17, 2008. She didn’t go back on Active status until May 4, 2017.
And that, my friends, raises the question of whether the feds will force Vanderford & Ruiz to provide proof of what work she did as a “consultant” for the firm. If she performed any of the very specific activities that define the practice of law during the period she was on Inactive status, it would virtually guarantee her disbarment, at minimum.
But if Richelle Huizar wasn’t practicing law at the firm, then the feds will want to know what she did there. That is a key element of the case against her husband. Was she doing something along the lines of business development for the firm and raking in money from real estate developers who her husband allegedly coerced to send business to his wife’s employer in order to get their massive developments approved by the powerful City Hall committee which he chaired? Also, what did Vanderford & Ruiz know about the Huizars and when did it know it?
That’s how things appear from here. And it doesn’t look pretty for any of them. Then again, perhaps it is all a big misunderstanding . .
(Daniel Guss, MBA, is a member of the Los Angeles Press Club, and has contributed to CityWatch, KFI AM-640, iHeartMedia, 790-KABC, Cumulus Media, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Daily News, Los Angeles Magazine, Movieline Magazine, Emmy Magazine, Los Angeles Business Journal, Pasadena Star News, Los Angeles Downtown News, and the Los Angeles Times in its Sports, Opinion and Entertainment sections and Sunday Magazine, among other publishers. Follow him on Twitter @TheGussReport. His opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.