For more than a year, Mike Carona's legal defense team and its sycophants aimed a portion of their wrath at Brett Sagel, the assistant United States attorney and driving force behind the prosecution of the indicted, ex-Orange County sheriff. They've impugned his motives, belittled his experience and mocked his skills. When he examined witnesses, they'd groan or snort. They even fired off personal shots you'd hear in a high school locker room.
But here's the irony of today's long awaited transfer of USA v Michael S. Carona from the lawyers to the jury of 11 men and a woman: The most comfortable man in the federal Judge Andrew Guilford's Santa Ana courtroom was not Carona, a politician with a gift for projecting an unflappable demeanor. It wasn't his high-priced Los Angeles-based lawyers. It was Sagel.
At the outset of the trial in October, Carona strutted around the courtroom, joked with his lawyers and pretended to care about reporters' well-being. He somehow managed to say hello to me occasionally. He greeted visitors to his trial as if they'd come for his birthday party.
My, how things have changed. Throughout today's session, Carona appeared to be battling a nasty case of indigestion--and losing. His smiles were forced. His often tireless flirting with a female member of his defense team was practically nonexistent. His face sagged. He sucked his teeth as if seething. He greeted his tiny, Alice in Wonderland fan base as if they'd come to a funeral.
Before IRS and FBI agents arrested him in 2007, then-Sheriff Carona unwittingly spoke into a hidden microphone and boasted to a co-conspirator that the feds would need "a surgeon" to expose his bribery-based criminal conspiracy.
Mr. Carona, meet Dr. Sagel.
How devastating was Sagel's closing argument? Jeff Rawitz and Brian Sun, two Jones Day defense lawyers, interrupted him 19 times, mostly on petty or absurd grounds and always in tones of outrage. But the tactic never derailed the prosecutor. In fact, it seemed to fuel his dissection of the defense's strenuous attempts to confuse the jury about direct evidence of Carona's guilt.
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More details later, but I thought this line was funny because Carona acts like a tough guy, but is in truth a coward.
"The sheriff of Orange County doesn't use phones to talk to Don Haidl [Carona's assistant sheriff, close pal and an admitted co-conspirator]," Sagel said. "That's consciousness of guilt. He's afraid of federal wiretaps. He uses [his wife and Haidl's sister] to be go-betweens. Why? Because they are criminal partners."
Of course, nobody knows what verdicts the jury will reach. Carona could need a moron or two, and for all I know he may get his wish. But Sagel and co-prosecutor Ken Julian? Regardless of the outcome, they've served the citizens of Orange County in ways the ex-sheriff could never comprehend. They stood up to a clever, powerful crook and exposed him simply because it was the right thing to do.
R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly