By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
1. DA ANTHONY RACKAUCKAS
Rackauckas has not had a good year. Nor, of course, have those he's prosecuted. As a deputy DA in the early 1980s, he sent Dwayne McKinney to jail for 20 years on a murder charge; earlier this year, an Orange County judge released McKinney after it was revealed that Rackauckas' prosecution was tainted. Two months ago, Rackauckas released 18-year-old Arthur Carmona from imprisonment on an armed-robbery conviction because, well, the kid was innocent. His first-degree murder prosecution of Shantae Molina? That went down in flames without so much as a manslaughter conviction because, well, the girl was innocent. MITIGATING FACTOR: With a name like Rackauckas, you just know junior high was hell.
2. GEORGE ARGYROS
Call it the Argyros Curse. As bazillionaire owner of the Seattle Mariners in the '70s and '80s, Argyros drove his team into major-league baseball's hell. Penny-pinching, shortsighted, and self-righteous, he sold the team—and left Seattle and the Mariners to flourish. Argyros continues to make nearly every list of Worst Pro-Sports-Team Owners Ever. Now a big-time OC real-estate developer, Argyros throws his conspicuous weight around smaller circles—with equally dubious results. He has already spent close to $3 million of his own dough on ballot campaigns promoting the county's feckless El Toro International Airport plan. But he wins points for irony: Argyros told The New York Times one year ago that the airport fight is "a classic case of class warfare to me. The South County is all spanking-new, and they live behind their guarded gates. It's almost the working people of the North against the haves in the South." Who would've figured such revolutionary zeal would come from a guy who lives in a $4.5 million estate (he owns others, but those are for his children and "special occasions") on the end of exclusive Harbor Island in Newport Bay? And of course, Argyros' biggest current development project is a massive Wal-Mart, built in the heart of a working-class residential neighborhood in Huntington Beach. MITIGATING FACTOR: Did not kill JFK.
3. ROBIN HINCH
Hinch is The Orange County Register's obituary writer. As OC's boatman on the River Styx, she guides our county's ordinary dead on their last extraordinary journey. Her subjects are not princes or Nobel laureates but optometrists, housewives, students and retired engineers. And a lot of Little League coaches, it seems. She finds in each biography something worth eulogizing: Harlan Smith, for example, "was a man with a gentle manner and a soft heart, who nearly wept when he realized his then-9-year-old daughter was nearsighted." Jimmie Sympson took a silver teapot camping. Lois Pilot "was kind of a distracted driver because she was talking all the time. She was a terrible dancer, disorganized as all get-out, and couldn't sing. And there you have the very worst of Lois Pilot." But Hinch can also pour salt into the wounds of the bereaved—we recall with particular horror the woman who maintained something like an altar to Journey front man Steve Perry. In candidly judging the dead, Hinch serves a kind of heavenly function—even if we have branded that terrifyingly honest approach "Hinchian." MITIGATING FACTOR: Our eulogies could hit the city desk the night Gordon Dillow (No. 15) sits in for Hinch.
4. SUPERIOR COURT JUDGE WILLIAM R. FROEBERG
Froeberg presided over both the absurd Shantae Molina murder case (see No. 1) and the 1998 David Herrick medical-marijuana case. The judge's wife is a ranking assistant DA under Rackauckas. None dare call this a conflict of interest —though during the Molina case, Froeberg consistently sided with the DA's prosecutor while repeatedly rejecting defense motions. In Herrick's case, Froeberg barred the defendant from using Proposition 215 as a defense, despite the fact that Prop. 215 is state law. Herrick ended up serving 29 months in prison for selling three-quarters of an ounce of marijuana to a guy with a doctor's note. A dead ringer for Monty Burns of The Simpsons, Froeberg hangs in his courtroom a picture of Clint Eastwood from the movie Hang 'Em High. MITIGATING FACTOR: Could have displayed picture of Clint Eastwood from Paint Your Wagon.
5. SHERIFF DEPUTY DAVID GUEST
Guest also played a crucial role in the miscarriage of justice known as the Shantae Molina murder case (see No. 4). As Molina's baby lay dying at the hospital, Guest took the young mother to the Sheriff's Department for interrogation. He ordered her strip-searched—a tactic clearly used to intimidate his suspect —and interrogated her for nearly five hours, a session that didn't end until 15 minutes after Molina's son died. Shortly before the case went to trial, Guest declared that the baby died from what police call a "contact wound," suggesting Molina had placed the gun to her baby's head and pulled the trigger. He was flatly wrong: every ballistics study showed the gun was at least 3 feet away from the baby's head at the time of the shooting. MITIGATING FACTOR: He has the same last name as Christopher Guest, and Christopher Guest is funny.
6. ASSISTANT DA ROBIN PARK
Park prosecuted the Shantae Molina case in August (see No. 5). In court, Park said Molina had "executed" her baby in 1998. It was a provocative allegation, but one for which Park insisted she had enough solid evidence to get the young mother sent to prison for life. But during the trial, Park never offered that solid evidence or even a compelling motive. Along with Guest, Park instead played the bogus contact-wound card, hoping to convince the jury the murder was execution-style. When the judge prohibited the use of the inflammatory allegation, Park introduced it anyhow. It didn't help: the jury found Molina not guilty on all counts. MITIGATING FACTOR: Her name sounds like someplace peaceful.