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Baugh's GOP Allies Hail Ruling, Say D.A. Must Go

Reaction: County party leaders predict full vindication for assemblyman. Democratic chairman says Baugh got off on 'technicality.' Capizzi's office considers next move.

September 11, 1996|MICHAEL G. WAGNER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ANA — Orange County Republicans rejoiced at the ruling Tuesday that largely gutted the criminal case against freshman Assemblyman Scott Baugh for alleged political misconduct.

"Wow," said Santa Ana lawyer Michael Schroeder, vice chairman of the California Republican Party, of the scathing six-page ruling that upbraided the district attorney's office for its conduct before the grand jury.

"Dist. Atty. Michael R. Capizzi has disgraced himself and his office and should resign," Schroeder said. A stern critic of the D.A., Schroeder said he believes Capizzi brought the case to further his ambition to run for state attorney general, a charge Capizzi denies.

"Today, Judge Smith found that Michael Capizzi's office knowingly used perjured and false testimony and concealed evidence in order to deceive the grand jury into indicting Scott Baugh," Schroeder said. "It is rare for a court to dismiss a case for prosecutorial misconduct."

Capizzi spokesman John Conley called the ruling "a procedural decision, not one that determined guilt or innocence."

But the court's action raised the prospect that Capizzi might seek to dismiss the remaining counts against Baugh and later go before the grand jury to seek to indict him again.

Ronald G. Brower, one of Baugh's defense lawyers, said he believed there was "a good chance" of that happening when the case resumes today.

"We are looking at all the options and that is one of them," Conley said.

Brower said it makes more sense for the district attorney's office to try to indict Baugh again than to appeal Smith's ruling, because of recent reversals in the 4th District Court of Appeal on charges brought against County Supervisors Roger R. Stanton and William G. Steiner stemming from the bankruptcy.

"The appeals court has not been reacting too favorably to the D.A. on these political cases," Brower said.

Some prominent county Republicans say the charges should not have been filed in the first place.

"None of us are happy when something like these charges are filed," said developer Buck Johns. "We've got enough of a fight trying to maintain [control of] the Assembly."

Baugh's election last November to replace former Speaker Doris Allen (R-Cypress), who was recalled on the same ballot, tipped the balance in the Assembly to the Republicans.

He was indicted on four counts of perjury and 18 counts of concealing or misreporting tens of thousands of dollars on finance disclosure statements. Among the charges were that he omitted a $1,000 contribution from Democrat Laurie Campbell to hide his longtime friendship with her. Campbell was a decoy candidate recruited by Republicans to siphon votes from Baugh's chief Democratic rival.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach), whose campaign workers were implicated in the Campbell scheme, did not return calls for comment.

The Democratic reaction was of surprise and disappointment.

"It is interesting and typical that where a Democrat like Linda Moulton-Patterson steps forward and admits she made a mistake and takes the consequences, the Republican refuses to take responsibility and gets off on a technicality," said Orange County Democratic Party Chairman James Toledano.

Moulton-Patterson pleaded guilty in July to a misdemeanor count of filing false elections papers during her unsuccessful 1995 Assembly race. She could not be reached for comment.

"None of this changes the fact that Baugh and [Assembly Speaker Curt Pringle] and Rohrabacher together worked very hard to poison the political process," Toledano added. "And I would hope the voters will recognize that a technicality doesn't make wrongdoing into proper conduct."

Orange County Republican Chairman Thomas A. Fuentes was elated. "You bring me news that makes my day," he said.

"This development is significant politically because this pursuit of [Baugh] has been for the benefit of the Democrat power machine that long existed with [former Democratic Speaker] Willie Brown at the helm, and it is refreshing and encouraging to see that we have a legal system that can sort out what is actually true."

"I'm sure that Republicans throughout Orange County rejoice in the news of this decision as we continue to believe and pray for the elimination of all these charges," Fuentes added.

The ruling is certain to enhance Baugh's chances of being reelected in November, Fuentes said.

In a prepared statement, Pringle (R-Garden Grove) was quoted as saying, "Scott has always maintained that when he had his day in court he would be found innocent of violating the law.

"Today he had his day and the judge, in effect, found him innocent of the most serious charges. It is our hope that the remaining charges will also be dismissed as soon as possible."

Also contributing to this report was Times staff writer Tracy Weber.

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