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Judge refuses to dismiss Carona prosecutor

Former sheriff sought the ouster of Brett Sagel because of his role in wiretapping of a government informant.

October 28, 2008|Christine Hanley | Hanley is a Times staff writer.

Former Orange County Sheriff Michael S. Carona has lost his bid to have a prosecutor removed from his corruption case because of the prosecutor's role in the wiretapping of a government informant.

Carona's attorneys had argued that Assistant U.S. Atty. Brett Sagel should be disqualified because he was the best witness regarding a bogus subpoena that former Assistant Sheriff Don Haidl took with him when he met with Carona and secretly taped conversations.

The defense attorneys argued that they were entitled to call Sagel to testify, and under the rules of the court he could not be both a witness and advocate in the same case.

But in a ruling made public Monday, U.S. Dist. Judge Andrew J. Guilford said that Carona's attorneys relied on the wrong case law in their motion. Guilford further explained that "Haidl, not Sagel, was present at the execution of the ruse" and that if the defense wanted to call someone to testify about the subpoena, they could call one of the investigators.

Carona is scheduled to go on trial this week on charges that he misused the powers of his office in a broad conspiracy to enrich himself and others, including Haidl. Carona is being tried with his former mistress, Debra Hoffman. His wife, Deborah Carona, will be tried separately.

Haidl has pleaded guilty to lesser charges and has been cooperating with the government for nearly two years. As part of the deal, he agreed to go undercover and record three meetings with Carona.

The defense tried unsuccessfully to have the tapes tossed out. During the conversations, Carona used racist and sexist slurs and boasted that the benefits of public office included hobnobbing with billionaires and getting "phenomenal" sex. They will also show, prosecutors say, Carona plotting to cover up a stream of illicit payments and trying to get Haidl to lie under oath to protect him.

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christine.hanley@latimes.com

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