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Both Sides Rebuked in Election Fraud Case

Courts: Judge suggests assistant D.A. step aside in prosecution of GOP activist Rhonda Carmony.

February 27, 1997|ANNA CEKOLA and PETER M. WARREN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

SANTA ANA — In a stern lecture to both sides in the election fraud prosecution of GOP activist Rhonda Carmony, Superior Court Judge David O. Carter on Wednesday defended the integrity of the judge hearing the criminal case and encouraged the lead prosecutor to step aside.

The rebuke came during a hearing to choose a judge to decide whether the district attorney's office should recuse itself from the case. Carmony is asking the Superior Court to require that the district attorney be replaced as prosecutor by the attorney general's office.

The papers supporting the motion are being kept confidential. Carmony has previously claimed that Dist. Atty. Michael R. Capizzi has prosecuted her for her political associations and to enhance his career.

Carmony, who is engaged to Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach), is a conservative Republican activist. She helped run the campaign of Assemblyman Scott R. Baugh (R-Huntington Beach), who is being prosecuted by Capizzi for multiple felony and misdemeanor violations for allegedly falsifying state-required campaign and economic interest reports.

Carmony was indicted in March on three felony counts of conspiracy and falsifying election documents for her alleged role in recruiting a Democratic friend of Baugh's to run for the seat, thus siphoning votes from a popular Democrat in the 67th District's special recall election. The charges against both stem from Baugh's successful run for office in the fall of 1995.

Capizzi is a Republican and is exploring a run for state attorney general.

Carter said he believes prosecutors in October tried "to muscle" trial Judge James L. Smith because they were upset with his rulings in the Baugh and Carmony cases.

He encouraged the lead prosecutor, Assistant Dist. Atty. Brent Romney, to leave the case and accused him of "abuse of office." Carter, who said he conducted his own investigation, conceded that he had become too enmeshed in the matter and said he would assign the recusal motion to another Superior Court judge.

Romney said later he would not step aside. "There is no reason to," he said.

Romney described Carter's remarks as "slanderous" and "based only on selected facts." To use the bench to express such personal observations "is a shocking display of judicial arrogance," he said.

The immediate dispute stems from Romney's discussion in October in Smith's chambers of a potential conflict of interest on the part of Smith. It involved an investigation 13 years ago of Smith and his wife, Judith, for allegedly accepting an air conditioner belonging to the Orange Unified School District, for whom she worked.

Carter also criticized Rohrabacher, saying he had harmed the Smiths by publicizing the in-chamber discussion while trying to discredit the district attorney and the case.

"Neither side had the courtesy to treat the bench with . . . respect," he said.

Both sides return to Carter's courtroom Friday, when he will pick a judge to hear the recusal motion.

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