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
In case you tuned out last year: Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona has a promiscuity problem. He's been accused of extramarital affairs and sexual harassment and, in an eyebrow-raising confession to a fellow cop, admitted to voyeurism: watching his onetime second-in-command, George Jaramillo, have sex with his own sister-in-law, Erica Hill. Later, Hill claimed the sheriff had promised to employ her husband as a deputy if she slept with him. After four romps and no hire, Hill said she ended the tryst. Another married woman claimed Carona repeatedly called her at home and invited her to San Francisco.
While much of Carona's alleged behavior is hardly illegal, some of it has been serious enough to warrant a lawsuit by Hill, numerous unflattering media exposťs and an investigation by the California attorney general.
But after a year of blows to his credibility, the county's top cop finally proved in December that he can think with his head. This would not be news, except that Carona, 50, is now using the shiny, bald one resting on his shoulders. That anatomical transition—long in coming, if several annoyed women are right—won't cost him a cent.
You, however, should grab your wallet. Despite scarce resources, local taxpayers will soon spend hundreds of thousands of dollars—perhaps a million bucks or more—to help wipe up the sheriff's sex mess.
Oops, my apologies to Carona. He's up for re-election in June. And, according to a memo obtained by the Weekly, details of his controversial spending plan were supposed to remain a secret until December 2006, after he'd won a third term.
* * *
Orange County government, manufacturers in 1994 of the world's largest municipal bankruptcy thanks to a potent mix of corruption, greed and ineptitude, has always been a cesspool of secrets. Here, bureaucrats routinely take it upon themselves to withhold information from citizens. Don't be surprised if, when asking a government employee for a public document, you find a clerk who'll demand that you tell her why you want to see it.
"Why?" can be an appropriate question, especially when the sheriff wants to divert a large sum of public money from identifying, capturing and housing crooks.
On Dec. 6, Carona directed county counsel Benjamin de Mayo to ask the Board of Supervisors to award the law firm of Jones and Mayer a no-bid, $100,000-plus contract. The funds will come from Proposition 172 accounts earmarked for law enforcement. According to de Mayo, the private law firm is needed to handle "issues relating to peace officer personnel matters."
Note the lack of specificity.
Normally, county agencies use the 60 lawyers collecting paychecks in the county counsel's office for legal tasks, including highly sensitive matters involving the sheriff. Also know that it often takes an act of God for a bureaucrat, like de Mayo, to ask for outside legal assistance—it's tantamount to saying he's not equipped to handle the situation. But Carona's alleged infidelity has created a special circumstance and thus, as de Mayo delicately told the supervisors, there's now a need for "a particular expertise" from outside counsel.
To get the deal approved, Carona made a rare appearance before the supervisors. He was there, he noted, for "a quick presentation." The sheriff then said what the spending would not be used for: legal woes he'd earned by giving official badges to 86 individuals who skirted thorough background checks and proper training.
Customarily, the sheriff's strong suit has been his uncanny ability to charm critics. But on this day the magic was gone. Carona looked noticeably irked. In fact, he digressed into a rant, unrelated (by his own admission) to the plea for money.
"Ms. Hanley lied," barked the sheriff, not bothering to identify her first name (Christine), her employer (the Los Angeles Times) or the reason for his irritation (her bombshell stories detailing reserve division corruption under Carona's leadership).
After offering a version of reality (he's done nothing wrong) at odds with the official conclusions of state investigators who oversee reserve deputy programs, Carona gripped the podium, forced a smile and tried to justify the hiring of outside counsel. He pretended his request was routine, boring, even—though his presence and demeanor proved something extraordinary was under way.
"This is yet to bring another expert onboard to supplement county counsel and his staff in dealing with personnel issues around the sheriff's department," he said.
What issues, sheriff?
Knowing that he'd already briefed each of the supervisors individually in private, Carona disingenuously invited in-depth questions and then sat down, seemingly confident none would be forthcoming in the public setting.
But Supervisor Chris Norby, perhaps the most independent member of the board, didn't play along. Norby asked county counsel if the request meant that his "current staff is adequate or not?" The question led to an awkward exchange, with de Mayo answering, "Uh, adequate? Uh . . ."
Norby: My question is if it is [adequate], then . . .
De Mayo: Then why . . .
Then why do we need this extra counsel?
Right. And, uh, again, this is, um, a contract to bring Mr. Mayer on, who is . . .
Yeah, I know that. I'm just asking you why?
Right. (Pause.) The reason that we're bringing on Mr. Mayer is, as the sheriff said, to supplement, uh, the advice we can provide the sheriff on personnel issues.