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D.A. Will Seek to Reinstate Baugh Charges

September 12, 1996|PETER M. WARREN | TIMES POLITICAL WRITER

SANTA ANA — Orange County Dist. Atty. Michael R. Capizzi said Wednesday that his office intends to reinstate the election fraud charges against Republican Assemblyman Scott R. Baugh that a judge dismissed Tuesday.

Making his first public pronouncement on the ruling by Superior Court Judge James L. Smith, Capizzi said the dismissal of 17 of the 22 election fraud counts against Baugh was "a Pyrrhic victory for the defense, and presumably short-lived."

"We are trying to determine the best option to get the entire case back on track and to an ultimate determination by a jury," Capizzi said in an interview late Wednesday afternoon. "It is not whether we can do that, but which of the options we are going to utilize. There are options from appealing to refiling, and we are exploring those."

In addition to appealing the Superior Court judge's decision to dismiss most of the charges against Baugh to a higher court, state law also allows Capizzi to refile the dismissed charges on a direct criminal complaint, which would almost certainly entail a preliminary court hearing at which a judge would be called upon to rule on the sufficiency of the evidence against Baugh.

Prosecutors could also return to the Orange County Grand Jury to seek a new indictment, which would preclude the possibility of a public preliminary hearing.

Capizzi characterized Smith's decision as "a ruling on a procedural issue, not on the substantive issue of guilt or innocence."

Ruling on a motion by Baugh's attorney, the judge agreed Tuesday that prosecutors had withheld crucial information about a key witness from the grand jury that originally indicted Baugh, one of his staff aides, and the campaign manager of U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach).

The grand jury's indictment of Baugh's chief of staff, Maureen Werft, and Rhonda Carmony, a staff aide to Rohrabacher, was not affected by the judge's ruling.

The indictments of Baugh, Carmony and Werft were the result of a six-month investigation into last year's recall election of renegade Republican Assemblywoman Doris Allen, who had infuriated the GOP by cutting a deal with the Assembly's Democrats to be elected speaker.

The election was critical to Republicans statewide. When Baugh replaced Allen, it tilted the balance of political power in the Assembly and led to the election of Curt Pringle of Garden Grove as speaker.

Baugh declined to comment on the latest developments. But on Tuesday, he had predicted that the district attorney's efforts to convict him on the remaining five charges would fail. "The exonerating evidence is there," he said.

Baugh's lawyers had also said on Tuesday that they planned to ask the district attorney's office to drop the remaining five charges, which include one felony and four misdemeanors alleging Baugh failed to report on state-required economic interest statements $11,000 in loans he received during his campaign for office.

"We are not dropping those charges. Absolutely not," Capizzi said.

Baugh and other conservative Republicans have charged that Capizzi has used the Baugh case to distract attention from his failure to prevent the county's recent bankruptcy, and to enhance his chances of winning statewide office.

Capizzi, also a Republican, acknowledged Wednesday that he is "exploring" the possibility of a campaign for state attorney general, but said he had not yet reached a decision on whether to actually enter the race. "There is a lot of time available," he said.

He also rejected calls for his resignation from state GOP Vice Chairman Michael Schroeder. "You sure they aren't directing that [call for resignation] to Scott Baugh?" he asked. "Of course not. It is ridiculous to even voice those thoughts."

Earlier on Wednesday, prosecutors won a delay in the proceedings against Baugh, giving them the time to either fashion an appeal or get the charges reinstated. Smith gave them until Oct. 3 to say how they would proceed.

Defense lawyers said prosecutors would not be able to reinstate the dismissed misdemeanors, but prosecutors disputed that. The 17 counts dismissed by Smith include three felonies and 14 misdemeanors alleging Baugh misreported tens of thousands of dollars in campaign loans and contributions.

In dismissing the charges, Smith said "the viability" of these 17 counts "rest upon the testimony" of Baugh's campaign treasurer, Dan Traxler, and said prosecutors had failed to inform grand jurors of Traxler's "prior inconsistent statements" about the misreported money.

Characterizing Traxler as "evasive and ambivalent" in his interviews with district attorney's investigators, Smith said: "To have deprived the grand jury of the opportunity to fully evaluate his credibility and consider prior statements that were both inconsistent and exculpatory . . . to the defendant is fatal" to the prosecution's charges.

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