A federal judge expressed growing frustration Wednesday at the plodding pace of defense lawyers in the corruption case against former Orange County Sheriff Michael S. Carona, saying he feared the criminal trial could continue past Christmas.
As lawyers picked through secretly recorded conversations between Carona and a Newport Beach businessman who says he bribed the former sheriff, District Judge Andrew J. Guilford warned that they risked angering the jury by playing and replaying the recordings.
"How often are we going to subject [jurors] to rehearing these things?" Guilford asked.
One of Carona attorneys, Jeff Rawitz, spent all of Wednesday afternoon going through portions of the tapes and quizzing businessman Don Haidl on his undercover interviewing techniques. Haidl, a former assistant to Carona, secretly recorded conversations with Carona in the summer of 2007 that are considered key to the prosecution.
Rawitz suggested that Haidl had missed numerous opportunities during his conversations with Carona to draw out statements that would clearly incriminate the sheriff.
Haidl was unwavering in his responses, maintaining that he believed the approach he took during his covert meetings was best, partly because he didn't want to tip off Carona that he was cooperating with the government.
If he was too obvious, Haidl explained, I "might as well have walked in and put a recorder on the table."
"You're not me. You weren't there," Haidl told Rawitz. "I was there. This is the way I dealt with it. . . . Maybe you're a lot smarter than I am."
Carona is standing trial with his former mistress, Debra Hoffman.
Both face possible prison terms. His wife awaits separate trial.
Haidl, who has pleaded guilty to tax charges and began cooperating with the government nearly two years ago, testified Wednesday that his undercover work was part of his agreement with prosecutors and that to carry it out, federal agents provided him with a recording device that looked like a cellphone.
Rawitz played various exchanges from the recordings as he sought to undermine allegations that Carona and former Assistant Sheriff George Jaramillo accepted $1,000 monthly cash bribes from Haidl for four years.
During the second of three meetings that Haidl recorded, Rawitz pointed out that Carona had told Haidl that he "didn't get tens of thousands of dollars from people" or shake people down.
He asked Haidl why he failed to take what seemed to be the perfect opportunity to counter those statements.
"The rest of the meeting probably wouldn't have gone so well if I had done what you suggested, sir," Haidl said. "I did it the way I could. The way I felt it should go. He said what he said. I said what I said."
Earlier Wednesday, Haidl provided more details about the alleged cash bribes, saying that at least a couple of the $1,000 payments took place in the sheriff's office in Santa Ana and the rest at Haidl's two Newport Beach homes.
Haidl said that sometimes he handed the cash directly to Carona, but at other times gave it to Jaramillo or Haidl's sister to give to Carona.
Haidl maintained that the money was always taken from his private safe and placed in envelopes.