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Pringle Aide Urged Spoiler, Jury Told

Trial: Prosecutors say Rhonda Carmony's execution of scheme to divide Democratic votes in key Orange County Assembly race was illegal.

June 03, 1997| From Associated Press

SANTA ANA — Aides to Assembly Minority Leader Curt Pringle, goaded by powerful contributors, insisted on putting a spoiler Democrat in a crucial 1995 election, jurors were told Monday as Rhonda Carmony's campaign cheating trial began.

Carmony, a 27-year-old aide and fiancee of U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach), faces three felony counts of lying on campaign forms and conspiracy in the Nov. 28, 1995, election campaign.

Orange County voters recalled Assemblywoman Doris Allen and replaced her with Scott Baugh, a Republican newcomer. His victory led to Pringle's election as speaker of the Assembly.

In opening statements in Superior Court, defense and prosecution agreed on several main points, including the fact that there was nothing illegal about the spoiler scheme itself.

"Both sides engage in the same type of conduct on a regular basis," said defense attorney Creighton Laz.

"The problem is how Rhonda Carmony implemented the plan," said prosecutor Brent Romney.

The winner-take-all election field originally included four Republicans and one Democrat. Worried that GOP votes would be diluted, party financiers called for another "Democrat" and Baugh enlisted a legal secretary, Laurie Campbell, Romney said.

Campbell was eventually stricken by a judge because of falsified nominating paperwork. She has agreed to testify under guarantee of immunity or misdemeanor prosecution only.

Baugh, a protege of Rohrabacher and favorite of the establishment, won the election anyway. His victory gave the party enough votes to make Pringle the first Republican Assembly speaker in over two decades.

Democrats regained control of the Assembly in December. Baugh faces charges that he cheated on campaign finances.

Laz asked jurors to think about who stood to gain from the spoiler scam. Not Carmony, he said, nor Rohrabacher, who holds federal office.

"Scott Baugh wins, Scott Baugh votes for Curt Pringle, and Curt Pringle becomes speaker of the Assembly," Laz said.

Carmony "is an innocent person who is caught up in those suspicious circumstances," he said. She never even talked to Campbell, he said.

Pringle aides including chief of staff Jeff Flint were badgered by employees of the powerful California Independent Business Political Action Committee, Laz said.

Pringle's people in turn badgered Carmony to get going with petition circulators for Campbell, the attorney said. "She said, 'no, no, no,' " Laz contended.

Candidates or their representatives must be the ones who collect nominating signatures, and they must sign as the circulators.

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