Suddenly, Rocco strides into the courtroom, wearing a tie, green pants, no socks and loose loafers. He’s clutching a soiled cap in one hand and a large notebook in another. He’s got sunglasses clipped to his spectacles (flipped up for indoor use) and a large bandage on his head. “Hey, Nick,” he says. “How’re you doing? My notebook is bigger than yours.”

After a brief exchange in front of the judge, all of the witnesses are ordered to wait in the hallway while he considers whether to allow us to leave for the day.

I use the time to find out how the rest of Rocco’s witnesses ended up on the list. “I live across the street from him,” explains Jesse Ochoa, a boxing instructor with platinum-blond hair. One time, Ochoa recalls, “He was trying to hide a shopping cart in my bushes. He told me, ‘You know what? I don’t like Mexicans. You’re all illegal.’ I’m a U.S. citizen. The last time I saw him, he gave me the finger and said, ‘Merry Christmas.’ Is there nothing we can do to stop him?”

Wes Poutsma served on the school board with Rocco, who once put his hand in front of Poutsma’s face while jabbing his finger at another board member during one of his rants against the Partnership. When Poutsma pushed Rocco’s hand away, Rocco tried to have him arrested for assault and battery.

Phil Martinez, whom Rocco defeated in his school-board race, says Rocco believes he and one of his supporters, Mike Furlop, tried to kill him. “My only crime is running against him,” Martinez says.

“I kicked him out of my garage sale because I didn’t like him, and a few weeks later, I apparently tried to run him over with my vehicle,” adds Furlop. “I wasn’t even in town that day.” Furlop says he plans to file a restraining order against Rocco—and that I will go to hell because I work for OC Weekly, which contains “smut” that endangers children.

Kathy Moran, an aide to Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach, says Rocco sent her a subpoena because he thinks she knows the identity of various Partnership members. She can’t believe prosecutors are trying to jail him for a bottle of ketchup when they pass on prosecuting more serious crimes. “Someone broke into my car and stole my property and my cell phone and used the phone for a week, so they could have found out who it was,” she says. “But they said, ‘Nah, we don’t deal with stuff like that.’ So I don’t understand this case.

“I’m taking today off as vacation time,” she adds. “I don’t think the county taxpayers should have to pay for this.”

A tedious hour or so later, prosecutor Lynda Fernandez informs the beleaguered group of witnesses in the hallway that they can leave the courthouse as long as they promise to show up again if called to testify. Meanwhile, back in the courtroom, the lawyers try to convince Judge John L. Flynn to quash Rocco’s summonses. Rocco temporarily derails that effort by forcing Flynn to recuse himself because of his ties to Chapman University, but later that afternoon, Judge Jacki Brown (no relation to the Quentin Tarantino movie) quashes every one of his subpoenas, thus making it very difficult for Rocco to prove he was set up by the Partnership.

*     *     *

I first met Rocco more than a decade ago, when a friend of mine who often visited the Santa Ana swap meet told me he’d met this guy named Rocco who had a stand in which he displayed rented albums from the local library that seemed to be offered for sale, but he refused to let anyone touch them. Rocco had read some of my stories on CIA covert operations and, my friend added, wanted to meet me and give me a copy of his own exposé of nefarious government activities. A week later, Rocco dropped by my office, refused to shake my hand and angrily handed over the tome, then left as quickly as he came. R.O.C.C.O. Behind the Orange Curtain, his self-published 1992 book, bills itself as a compendium of “secret chronicles and public-record accounts of corruption, murder and scandal of corporate and political California.” In his author’s bio, Rocco describes himself as “formerly, an ex-writing teacher” who has also written at least two other works, Raven In the Shafts (which “delivers where Catcher In the Rye only hinted”) and 1975: The Year Vietnam Ended (“a tumultuous look at an era that changed the world”). The book’s cover features a white, stick-like human figure, waving his arms above his head and wilting in the brutal glare of a sunrise that looks strangely similar to the Japanese imperial flag of war. Above that illustration, in italics, is the uncredited aphorism “Ignorance can be expensive.”

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