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Finally

Orange County Sheriff Carona hands in his badge. A seasoned, independent successor is needed.

January 15, 2008

In the "hello, I must be going" category, we have Michael S. Carona, the former Orange County sheriff who returned from leave only to retire Monday after a week back in office.

As always, Carona was watching out for his own best interests. He used his week on the job to place an ally in position to take over temporarily; he retired with close to $200,000 a year in pension payments; and, because he's not an elected official any more, he no longer has to worry about accepting thousands of dollars in donated legal help to fight the corruption charges he faces.

That's fine. For once, what's good for Mike Carona is also best for his department and for Orange County. No more paying him his full salary while he spends most or all of his time preparing his defense. No more public embarrassment about the top law enforcement figure in the county standing accused of crimes in office, his top assistants already having made their plea deals. Above all, a chance to emerge from years in which political finagling and scandals overshadowed the department's crime-fighting deeds.

Everyone comes out scarred. Even if Carona beats the rap against him, he ends a 30-year law enforcement career with his reputation in tatters. The sheriff-in-shining-armor who led the swift capture of the killer of 5-year-old Samantha Runnion now has no future life in public office. And the department he led has a long way to go to recover its sense of honor; worse, its deputies, who had little confidence in Carona and his lackeys even before the federal charges against him, are demoralized and face the uncertainty of more leadership changes.

The next move belongs to the county Board of Supervisors, which appoints an interim sheriff until the next election. Given the election boost that naturally belongs to an incumbent, the board must choose carefully, preferably hiring a seasoned, independent leader who has stayed out of the fray. Candidates from inside more likely will be seen as either from the Carona camp or the anti-Carona camp. It's time for the politicking to end and for the bad guys to be the ones who aren't wearing the shield.

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