LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Arraignment was postponed Friday for City Councilman Curren Price, who faces criminal charges of theft by embezzlement, perjury and conflict of interest for allegedly voting on projects involving developers tied to his wife's consulting firm, then failing to report the connections.
With Price challenging the sufficiency of the prosecution's complaint, the arraignment now is scheduled for Dec. 15 in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom.
The felony complaint filed June 13 charges Price with five counts of grand theft by embezzlement, three counts of perjury and two counts of conflict of interest.
Superior Court Judge Kimberley Baker Guillemet allowed the 72-year-old councilman to remain free on his own recognizance at Price's first court appearance in July. His arraignment had also been postponed on Aug. 28.
"Today's demurrer demonstrates the many ways in which the charges against Councilmember Price are legally deficient," the councilman's attorney, Michael Schafler, said in a statement Friday after the latest arraignment was put off.
"First, there is no allegation that Councilmember Price acted willfully or knowingly with respect to the conflict of interest or financial disclosure charges, which are necessary elements. Second, the embezzlement charges fail to state a cognizable offense, and are time-barred if brought under any other pertinent statute."
Schafler went on to say, "even if our demurrer, which is based only on the face of the Complaint, is denied, the problems with the prosecution's case are undeniable. They will only become clearer once the prosecution is required to put forth evidence of probable cause that Councilmember Price is guilty of a crime.
"We anticipate the prosecution will be unable to meet that burden, and we believe that this case never should have been filed.
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Following Friday's court session, the City Council held a regular meeting, but Price was not in attendance.
The criminal complaint alleges that Price effectively embezzled money between 2013 and 2017 by having the city cover roughly $33,800 in medical premiums for Del Richardson, to whom he claimed to be married, although he was still married at the time to Lynn Suzette Price.
Price -- who has maintained his innocence -- has represented the Ninth District, which includes most of South Los Angeles and Exposition Park, since 2013. He previously served in the state Assembly and state Senate.
After his initial court appearance in July, Price issued a statement saying, "We are looking forward to engaging with the DA in the coming weeks and we are grateful that the court has given us time to do so. I want to thank my constituents and the entire city of Los Angeles for the outpouring of support I have received and I look forward to continuing to do the people's business."
Price's statement went on to say, "As we said when the charges were brought, we believe that the charges filed by the DA's office are completely unwarranted and that the facts will bear this out. I have always conducted myself, in and out of the public eye, with integrity and professionalism."
Price sent a letter that afternoon to Council President Paul Krekorian announcing his decision to step down as council president pro tem, and surrendering all of his committee assignments.
"While I navigate through the judicial system to defend my name against unwarranted charges filed against me, the last thing I want to do is be a distraction to the people's business," Price wrote in the letter.
Price returned Aug. 8 to City Hall for the first time since he had been charged, entering the council's chambers with a business-as-usual approach and with little to no disruption from those in attendance.
During the public comment period that day, a few members of the public openly criticized Price's return, mostly saying he should not be voting at all.
If convicted, Price could face a sentence ranging from probation to roughly eight to 10 years behind bars, Deputy District Attorney Casey Higgins said outside court following the brief hearing in July.
Price is the latest Los Angeles city official to fall into legal or political turmoil. Former council members Jose Huizar and Mitch Englander have both pleaded guilty to federal charges in recent years, while Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas was convicted earlier this year of federal charges for trading votes during his time on the county Board of Supervisors in exchange for benefits provided by USC to his son.
Former City Council President Nury Martinez resigned last year after being caught on tape in a racially charged conversation with two other councilmembers and a county labor official, discussing the council's redistricting process.