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Carona seeks to disqualify witness

September 13, 2008|Stuart Pfeifer | Times Staff Writer

Lawyers for former Orange County Sheriff Michael S. Carona asked a judge Friday to disqualify one of the main prosecutors from the ex-lawman's corruption trial, saying they intend to call the prosecutor as a witness.

Defense attorneys say they want Assistant U.S. Atty. Brett Sagel to testify about the decision to ask a former assistant sheriff to secretly record conversations with Carona. The surreptitious recordings by former Assistant Sheriff Donald Haidl are expected to be a key part of Carona's trial, scheduled to begin Oct. 28.

Carona had argued unsuccessfully that the recordings should not be admitted as evidence because they were made at a time when prosecutors knew he was represented by an attorney. State Bar of California ethical guidelines prohibit lawyers from contacting opposing parties who are represented by counsel, directly or through third parties such as Haidl.

In a recent ruling on the secret recordings, U.S. District Judge Andrew J. Guilford wrote that "evidence of how the tapes of defendant were obtained may be relevant at trial." He declined to block the recordings as evidence.

Jeffrey Rawitz, one of Carona's attorneys, argued in Friday's motion that the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has held that attorneys cannot advocate for a client and testify at the same trial.

In addition, Rawitz wrote, "a number of district courts have recognized that a prosecutor may be disqualified to protect the integrity of the judicial system." He asked Guilford to hold a hearing on the proposed disqualification Oct. 14.

Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in L.A., declined to comment on the defense motion. If granted, it would probably necessitate a delay in the trial.

Carona; his wife, Deborah; and his former mistress, Debra V. Hoffman, are accused of conspiring to use Carona's influence to obtain cash and gifts.

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stuart.pfeifer@latimes.com

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