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Carona trial to remain in O.C.

In denying a change of venue, judge belittles radio show, says honest jurors can be found.

May 22, 2008|Stuart Pfeifer | Times Staff Writer

A federal judge Wednesday declined to move the political corruption trial of former Orange County Sheriff Michael S. Carona, rejecting defense arguments that banter about the case by two KFI radio shock jocks would prevent him from receiving a fair trial in Southern California.

Carona's lawyers argued that the hosts of "The John and Ken Show" made it impossible to find impartial jurors because the hosts had urged listeners to lie to get onto Carona's jury, then vote to convict him.

U.S. District Judge Andrew J. Guilford ruled that the commentary was inappropriate but would not prevent Carona from finding 12 honest jurors in a county of 3 million people.

"The advocates of such lawlessness are not nearly as important as they pretend and their listeners are not the gullible audience they suppose," Guilford wrote in his opinion. "The court will not overreact to bait offered by largely satirical commentators."

Carona lawyer John D. Cline had suggested at a hearing that it would be impossible for attorneys to determine whether prospective jurors had taken the advice of hosts John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou to lie to get seated.

"Most people won't lie because of 'John and Ken' on the radio, but all it takes is one. Only one of them needs to lie to corrupt the process," Cline said.

But Assistant U.S. Atty. Brett Sagel said Orange County was populous enough to find jurors who had not listened to Kobylt and Chiampou's afternoon drive-time show on KFI-AM (640). He said the jury selection process would allow attorneys to find an impartial jury.

"I think we are giving too much credit to two people on the radio," Sagel said.

Defense attorneys asked Guilford to move the trial to San Francisco, Portland, Ore., or Seattle, outside the considerable reach of KFI's radio signal. To make their point, they asked the judge to consider several comments pulled from transcripts of the radio show.

"You got to fake it, OK," one of the hosts said during a March 20 show. "You have to sit there and say, 'I didn't really hear much. Don't listen to 'John and Ken Show'. . . . Inside you're hiding the fact that, boom, you're checking that guilty box as soon as you get the paperwork."

Carona's lawyers said they would continue to monitor the radio program as the former sheriff's Aug. 26 trial approaches.

"We remain concerned that this problem will continue and possibly intensify the closer we get to trial," said Carona attorney Jeffrey M. Rawitz.

Carona, his wife, Deborah, and former mistress, Debra V. Hoffman, are accused of selling the power of the sheriff's position for tens of thousands of dollars in cash and gifts.

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stuart.pfeifer@latimes.com

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