SANTA ANA — An Orange County judge on Monday delayed the felony trial of Assemblyman Scott R. Baugh for three months, moving it closer to the November general election.
Baugh had been scheduled to go to trial June 8, less than a week after the primary in which he faces five GOP opponents. He is accused of lying to cover up his role in a GOP effort to rig a 1995 election.
Superior Court Judge Francisco Briseno also postponed a decision on motions by Baugh to remove Dist. Atty. Mike Capizzi from the case for an alleged conflict of interest and replace him with the state attorney general's office.
Briseno said he would rule June 5 on Baugh's motions, including one that the case be dismissed.
Baugh, 35, was not in court Monday.
Defense attorney Allan Stokke claims that Capizzi, who is running for state attorney general, cannot make "fair and impartial decisions" in the case because his judgment in pushing the prosecution has become "part of the campaign" in the statewide race.
Stokke contends that Capizzi needs vindication in court to show that he has exercised proper prosecutorial discretion in pursuing the case.
Top GOP leaders, along with Dave Stirling, the Republican running against Capizzi, have criticized Capizzi for pursuing felony charges rather than allowing the Fair Political Practices Commission to handle the case.
Capizzi couldn't be reached for comment, but he previously has denied any conflict in the case.
Prosecutors say the case is more serious than the usual FPPC case because Baugh is alleged to have lied on campaign reports to conceal his role in a Republican scheme to split the Democratic vote by placing a decoy Democrat on the ballot.
Baugh is charged with two felony perjury counts and 10 misdemeanor violations of the Campaign Reform Act stemming from his first campaign for office three years ago.
Baugh, a former corporate attorney, has acknowledged mistakes by his campaign, but has insisted he broke no laws because he relied on the advice of others and acted in good faith.
Briseno said the trial delay was caused, in part, by a complex triple-murder case before him. A jury has been selected, and that trial is expected to last until July or August.
Assistant Dist. Atty. John Conley said the Baugh case would take about three weeks to prosecute. "We have been ready for trial for months," he said.
Stokke said Baugh "is ready to go, but it certainly does take time to hear a motion as complex as this one." He denied that part of Baugh's strategy is to delay the case until a new district attorney takes office in January.
"I am sure the case is going to trial," he said.
Baugh was first indicted in March 1996, but most of that indictment was dismissed by Superior Court Judge James Smith, who said prosecutors failed to present evidence to the grand jury that tended to exonerate him. The case was refiled, and Baugh was bound over for trial last year.