SANTA ANA — Orange County Supervisor Don R. Roth abstained Tuesday from board votes on two matters, the second consecutive week that he has chosen not to cast votes because of potential conflicts of interest that have surfaced during a seven-month influence peddling probe.
The abstentions Tuesday stemmed from what Roth called the Baldwin Co.'s "inadvertent payment" of $1,950 for the landscaping and irrigation of the front yard of Roth's new Anaheim Hills home in 1990.
A lawyer for a top Baldwin Co. executive has said that the firm arranged to have the work done quickly and cheaply as a "favor" to Roth. Roth has said he wasn't aware that the firm paid the bill until recently, although his ex-wife, Jackie Roth, disputes that account. Roth has also reported that he repaid part of the bill.
The supervisor excused himself from two votes affecting the Baldwin Co. Tuesday as a result of that issue. The votes certified that Baldwin had completed sewer, street, lighting and other public facilities improvements in areas around company housing developments in the north Lake Forest area.
In a letter to the clerk of the Board of Supervisors, Roth said he was abstaining from the votes on the advice of the county's lawyers.
"While it does not appear that I have received a loan or a gift from the Baldwin Co., it would nevertheless be advisable to disqualify myself from voting on these items," Roth wrote. He also abstained from two votes last week that affected people who may have given him unreported gifts.
Since May, the Orange County district attorney's office has been investigating allegations that Roth traded political favors for thousands of dollars in unreported gifts, including meals, trips, home improvements, landscaping, flight upgrades, and other items.
State law requires local elected officials to report all gifts valued at more than $50 and bans them from voting on issues affecting anyone who has given them more than $250 in gifts in the previous year.
Roth has predicted that he will be exonerated by the probe.
Roth's colleagues on the board say it is the first time that they recall a supervisor deciding to abstain from votes because of concerns over gifts. However, they have declined to discuss any impact Roth's action may have on the board.
But William R. Mitchell, president of the Orange County chapter of Common Cause, a government watchdog group, said Roth's regular absence from county votes could hurt the entire process of government in the county.
"Every time he abstains, it's a recognition of his failure to use good judgment in the past," he said. "I don't think he can effectively represent the public any more. He's got to resign."
Last week, Roth abstained from a vote affecting a family that had hosted him on three weekend getaways and gave him what amounted to an $8,500 interest-free loan. He also abstained on a vote involving the city of Anaheim because of questions concerning a lifetime golfing pass and other items the city had given him. Roth did not report any of the items as gifts.