Despite our gorgeous beaches, jealousy-inspiring weather, breathtaking cultural diversity and renowned theme parks, Orange County's contributions to world history haven't always been uplifting.
We're ground zero in the embarrassing government failure of privatizing public roads. Over the years, we've produced one of the kookiest, angriest, sex-obsessed, doomsday-anxious, bigoted, political cultures in our nation's annuals. And it wasn't long ago when judges here allowed trial lawyers to blatantly kick non-Caucasians off juries without any pang of guilt.
Our self-styled fiscally conservative county supervisors defied conventional wisdom to drive one of the wealthiest locales on Earth into what was in 1994 the world's largest municipal bankruptcy. And yes, we routinely supply humanity with big-haired, televangelist freak shows of two-faced, money-craving con artists, who—you can't make this up—use church donations to purchase separate, ocean-view, multimillion-dollar mansions in Newport Coast for their dogs.
Thankfully, some of these offenses are becoming distant memories. In the lifespan of this publication, which turned 18 years old last month, Orange County has become a decidedly more open-minded, cosmopolitan environment. For proof of this fact look no further than The Orange County Register. Long the region's most protective guardian of the local establishment and stale notions of yesterday, the Register nowadays makes an effort to sell our turf and populace as hip. Yet, we still see examples of hillbilly backwardness. In Los Alamitos, a white, Republican, elected official celebrated our country's first black president in 2009 by distributing an image of the White House lawn turned into a watermelon patch. A few years later, a white, elected, Republican official in Fullerton emailed other conservative activists a doctored image of Barack Obama and his parents as a family of chimpanzees (hardy har har).
Obama isn't fretting the racists, of course. He's a two-term U.S. president who will live the rest of his life in an elite, pampered cocoon. But as 2014 approaches—nearly a half-century after the enactment of historic, anti-discrimination laws—shouldn't a black woman be able to live her daily life in OC—a place where African-Americans comprise less than 2 percent of the population—free of 1950s, Alabama-style prejudice?
As I first reported on the Weekly's Navel Gazing news blog, the Fair Housing Council of Orange County (FHCOC) this month won a federal consent decree against the ownership/management of Orange Plaza Apartments. The order, signed by U.S. District Court Judge Beverly Reid O'Connell in Los Angeles, is in response to the 2011 experience of Barbara Johnson, an African-American woman who answered a Craigslist ad for a two-bedroom apartment in the city of Orange. After Johnson visited the complex and wanted the unit, management told her it was unavailable.
Three days later, she saw a new ad had been placed for the same property, so she contacted the FHCOC, which sent two undercover “testers” to the complex. A manager told the first tester, an African-American woman, there were no available units. Minutes later, a second tester, this one a white woman, visited and—voila!—was eagerly encouraged to lease a suddenly available unit, according to a 2012 lawsuit filed by FHCOC on Johnson's behalf.
Malcolm Jerome Winer, the owner of the complex, admitted no wrongdoing, but to settle the litigation, he agreed to pay $60,000 to the plaintiffs, post conspicuous anti-discrimination notices at the property and attend fair-housing training once a year for two years.
You can add the Winer case to other recent annual FHCOC courthouse victories. According to records, it has won consent decrees and awards against Kensington Manor Apartments in Garden Grove in 2010 ($50,000 for discriminating against families with children); Sam and Nina Chang, owners of two Buena Park apartment complexes, in 2011 ($70,000 for discriminating against the disabled); and last year against the Monterey Pines Apartments in Tustin ($66,000 for discriminating against families with children).
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MURDER ON THE MENU
Assistant United States Attorney Jennifer Chou couldn't keep the puzzled smile off her face during an Oct. 11 hearing in which Adelina Cristobal was scheduled to change her plea to guilty for ordering a $6,500 murder of her daughter's boyfriend.
The petite, chained Cristobal, 45 with a face 20 years advanced, appeared with her public defenders and a Spanish translator in U.S. District Court Judge Josephine Staton's Santa Ana courtroom and wanted the benefits of pleading guilty before trial—a reduction in charges and more lenient punishment.
Chou and Cristobal, who refused to sign a formal guilty plea, had agreed to a short factual basis describing the crime, but Staton didn't believe the summary adequately underscored that the defendant—the co-owner of Mar de Oro, a Mexican restaurant in Lawndale—conspired in January to commit murder, wanted the victim told who arranged the hit before the killing, sought cell-phone photographs of the gory aftermath and ordered the corpse made to disappear near Tijuana.
Cristobal repeatedly told Staton she is “guilty,” yet when the judge—who wanted to ensure the defendant couldn't later claim her confession didn't involve conspiracy—asked if she'd specifically hired co-defendant Antonio Quevedo to find a hit man, she steadfastly refused to answer.
“Then I won't accept her guilty plea,” declared the judge, who observed a Nov. 5 trial had been set and left the bench.
While Chou studied her cell phone, Cristobal huddled with her advisers. Intense discussions ensued, and 21 minutes later, the exasperated defendant, who'd unwittingly hired a wire-wearing, undercover federal agent as the would-be hit man with a $500 down payment, conceded. Staton, who recently dropped her previous last name of Tucker, returned to the courtroom, asked her questions, got answers and ordered a Jan. 24 sentencing.
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FIFTY BUCKS ON THE CHARGERS
Pat Fondarella probably won't be taking bets on upcoming sporting contests after federal prosecutors in Orange County filed charges this month claiming the Foothill Ranch resident spent at least the past four years violating anti-bookmaking laws for Coast2Coast Sports, a Costa Rica outfit.
According to the government, Fondarella managed a multiperson phone and website operation that earned at least $60,000 monthly from bets.
The case is on a speed track. On the same day the charges were announced, the 55-year-old housing contractor with ties to Nevada signed a guilty plea. Fondarella faces a maximum punishment of three years in prison and a fine double of the ill-gotten gains at a yet-to-be scheduled sentencing hearing.
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CASTRO IS COMING!
U.S. Representative Joaquin Castro (D-San Antonio), of the identical-twin political duo from Texas, is scheduled to present the keynote speech at Saturday's 19th Annual Harry S Truman awards dinner, the local Democratic Party soiree. Castro's brother, Julian, is the San Antonio mayor who gave a popular performance at the Democrat's last presidential convention. Go and ask Joaquin why he, a Harvard-trained lawyer born five weeks after President Richard M. Nixon resigned following the Watergate scandal, signed off on allowing the National Security Agency unprecedented snooping rights against innocent American citizens. Past keynote speakers include John Kerry, Jerry Brown, Gavin Newsom, Barney Frank and Nancy Pelosi. Tickets for the event, held from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Magic Kingdom Ballroom at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim, cost $150—or $125, if you're a Young Democrat. For more information, visit www.OCDems.net.