I arrived at Department C-51, the courtroom of Judge Jacki Brown--is it me, or doesn't that sound like the title of a great movie sequel?--just after 9 AM to find the courtroom nearly empty. Besides the bailiff, clerk, court reporter, and Rocco himself, who was still wearing the mysterious bandage on his scalp he had on two weeks ago and still festooned with his famous clip-on sunglasses flipped up for indoor usage, there was just some elderly guy in a tennis outfit reading the OC Register and LA Times reporter Tony Barboza.
Finally, twenty minutes or so later, prosecutor Lynda Fernandez and Rocco's brand new public defender Erica Gambale walked in, followed by Register reporter Rachanee Srisavasdi. Fernandez told us that the actual jury trial won't start until Monday morning, when 60 jurors and 40 backup jurors will be ready to carry out their vital public service by pondering over the fate of ex-Orange school board trustee Rocco, better known--especially to loyal fans of the Rocco Loco files--as anti-supermarket conspiracy crusader, attempted assassination evader and alleged ketchup kleptomaniac.
Fernandez showed us a list of witnesses she planned to call to the stand early next week to prove that Rocco stole a half-empty bottle of ketchup valued at $1.20 from a Chapman University cafeteria last September. They include Chapman security officers Josie Wright and Jonathan Pashke, as well as Eduardo Correa, a cafeteria employee. When Fernandez explained that one of those witnesses saw the "theft," Rocco--who describes himself as "America's premier legal technician--corrected her. "Alleged theft," he said.
"What about the other two names on this list," Srisavasdi asked, pointing at two names at the bottom of the page that Fernandez hadn't mentioned.
"Oh, they're witnesses I'm not planning to call to testify," Fernandez explained.
One of the names looked familiar to me: Mark McCain. He is a major figure in Rocco's so-called "Partnership" conspiracy theory, namely that Albertsons supermarket, Smokecraft Sausage and Kodak Film Corp. secretly control Orange County government. Rocco first unveiled that conspiracy when he was arrested at an Albertsons supermarket in 1980, while allegedly attempting to shoplift a sausage and several rolls of film. McCain, as it turns out, was the Albertsons manager who called the cops. He was also the son of the supermarket chain's CEO.
I say was, because McCain died several years ago--Rocco's defense brief in the ketchup arrest includes McCain's death certificate, which shows he died of a drug overdose--proof, to Rocco at least, that Albertsons is actually just a cover for a drug cartel.
"What's Mark McCain doing on your witness list?" I asked Fernandez, to Rocco's obvious delight. He chuckled sagely, stroking his chin.
"Oh, he witnessed a prior theft," she said.
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"My understanding is he's deceased now," I offered.
"Oh, that explains why we weren't able to track him down," Fernandez said.
Needless to say, none of this exchange made any sense to anyone in the room except Rocco and me. A few minutes later, the excitement ended when Judge Brown strode into the courtroom and after wishing everyone a good morning, ruled that because of previous media coverage of this case, and her hope to ensure a fair trial, she was rejecting requests by the Register and KTLA TV to bring cameras into the courtroom. You're welcome.
I have to agree with Judge Brown's ruling. We wouldn't want this case of utmost seriousness and non-ridiculous importance to degenerate into some kind of circus, would we?