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Angry Mayor Assails Huffman Trial Tactics

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Times Staff Writer

In his most demonstrative display of emotion in his Superior Court trial, Mayor Roger Hedgecock on Thursday angrily slammed his pen on a table and accused Assistant Dist. Atty. Richard Huffman of using “cheap . . . grandstanding tactics” after Huffman contended that the mayor had “lied a lot” during an interview last year with state officials investigating his personal and campaign finances.

As Hedgecock’s felony perjury and conspiracy trial concluded its second week, a $70,000 discrepancy over the cost of the renovation of the mayor’s South Mission Hills house also arose. Two construction officials who supervised the project said that a $130,000 bill prepared in February was accurate. But a carpenter testified that one of the officials had told him that the renovation actually cost more than $200,000 and that he was “juggling figures” to lower the bill to $130,000.

Hedgecock’s angry reaction--in contrast to his heretofore calm demeanor in the courtroom--occurred while Huffman and defense attorney Michael Pancer presented arguments to Judge William L. Todd Jr. over how much of a 50-page transcript of a March, 1984, interview in which Hedgecock was questioned by officials of the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) could be introduced as evidence in the trial.

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Arguing that “95% of (the transcript) is inadmissible hearsay,” Pancer tried to persuade Todd to discard most of it on the grounds that the FPPC investigators referred in their questions to “newspaper allegations” about Hedgecock’s finances that could prejudice jurors.

Huffman, however, told Todd that the transcript was a crucial piece of evidence that “puts into context other financial transactions” that prosecutors contend illustrates Hedgecock’s attempt to cover up improper financial assistance by former La Jolla financiers J. David (Jerry) Dominelli and Nancy Hoover.

“It contains a number of false statements . . . by Mr. Hedgecock designed to mislead” the FPPC, Huffman said. “He lies to them. He lies to them a lot.”

As Huffman concluded that remark--delivered while jurors were not in the courtroom--Hedgecock leaned forward in his chair and loudly slammed his pen on the table at which he and Pancer sit. Glaring across the courtroom at Huffman, Hedgecock then leaned back and shook his head.

After spending an hour and 45 minutes going through the transcript page by page with the two opposing attorneys, Todd eliminated about one-third of the document, which later was read to jurors by Huffman and Al Herndon, the FPPC’s chief investigator, who was called to testify by the prosecution.

During a brief recess, Hedgecock and Huffman, speaking separately to groups of reporters about 10 feet apart in the hallway outside the courtroom, directed barbed remarks at each other.

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“For him to stand there and call me a liar four times and then not point to one specific example to back it up . . . just shows that his case is going downhill,” Hedgecock said. “That’s playing with the sorts of headlines that will help him influence the jury in an unprofessional, unethical way . . . that he’s unable to do through concrete testimony.

“He’s rattled. Thirty witnesses later, there is no evidence . . . I’ve done anything wrong,” the mayor added. “He could have gotten better witnesses by picking names out of a phone book.” Hedgecock argued that “there are no lies” in the transcript, though he said he “probably would expand on a few points” if asked the same questions today.

Huffman responded, “I stand by what I said in court and I’ll say it again at the appropriate time in front of the jury. I’ll be happy to give him some specifics when we get to closing arguments.”

Glancing toward Hedgecock and the cluster of reporters surrounding him, Huffman added, “Appropriately . . . we should try cases in the courtroom (and) conduct political diatribes in the hallways. If there’s anyone unprofessional, it’s not me.”

Although jurors routinely are admonished by the judge not to discuss the case with anyone or read press accounts, Hedgecock said he is “fearful that Huffman’s tactics (can produce) bold headlines . . . that can be seen by the jury even accidentally.”

“Obviously, I’m concerned about the (press) reports being accurate and reflecting the character of the testimony,” the mayor said. “Little things like Huffman calling me a liar . . . will tend to obscure the actual state of the evidence. There’s a chance the jury could be . . . tainted by that.”

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When the FPPC transcript was later presented to jurors, Huffman read the questions that had been asked by officials of the state political watchdog agency, while FPPC investigator Herndon read the answers given by Hedgecock and several of his aides present during the March 9, 1984, interview at the mayor’s City Hall office.

During the interview, Hedgecock said that he barely knew Dominelli, saying, “I can count on two hands the number of times I have met him. We never had any political discussions of any great length.” Hedgecock’s comments are diametrically opposed to prosecutors’ contention that the mayor and Dominelli were close allies and that Hedgecock knew that the now-jailed financier was bankrolling Tom Shepard & Associates, the political consulting firm that ran his 1983 campaign.

Again contradicting prosecutors’ claims, the mayor also told the FPPC officials that he had never discussed plans to run for mayor before Shepard left then-county Supervisor Hedgecock’s staff to start the consulting firm in early 1982. Prosecutors argue that, from its inception, Shepard’s agency was envisioned by Hedgecock, Shepard, Hoover and Dominelli as a vehicle to illegally funnel tens of thousands of dollars in contributions to Hedgecock to help him become mayor.

Noting that Pete Wilson still was mayor when Shepard started his firm and that any future mayoral race hinged on Wilson’s then far-from-certain victory in the 1982 U.S. senatorial campaign, Hedgecock was quoted in the transcript as saying that he simply hoped that Shepard’s agency would be a success so that he could “take advantage of it” in some future race.

The transcript revealed that Roger Brown, head of the FPPC’s enforcement division, also asked Hedgecock whether he was concerned that a $130,000 oral-agreement loan he received from Hoover to renovate his house “might appear to be simply a disguised gift” from Hoover.

“That’s a lot of conjecture,” Herndon quoted Hedgecock as saying. “I fully intended to disclose that I had made a loan. Absent the J. David collapse, there wouldn’t have been any (negative) attention.”

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The $130,000 figure also was the focus of testimony by three construction officials familiar with the house renovation project. The district attorney’s office contends that the project actually cost much more, and that the $130,000 figure is a phony one developed by Hedgecock and his allies at a February, 1984, meeting at which they sought to find ways to limit the political fallout from the mayor’s financial ties to Hoover.

Parin Columna, a contractor formerly employed by the now-bankrupt La Jolla investment firm of J. David & Co., agreed to testify about his work on Hedgecock’s house only after being granted immunity.

Columna testified that he initially billed Hedgecock and his wife, Cindy, during the project’s early stages, but that after it became clear that the cost was going to exceed the original $100,000 budget, Hoover told him to directly bill her instead.

When J. David’s financial problems caused the checks that Hoover gave Columna to pay subcontractors to begin bouncing early in 1984, Columna halted work and, at Shepard’s request, began preparing a cost sheet of the then-incomplete renovation project. Columna’s first estimate of the cost was $143,096 which, minus his profit, produced a figure of $130,088, almost exactly the amount that Hedgecock says he borrowed from Hoover.

“Did Mr. Shepard give you the figure of $130,000?” Huffman asked.

“No,” answered Columna.

“You didn’t deliberately come up with the figure of $130,000” to come close to Hedgecock’s estimate? Huffman asked.

“No,” Columna said.

Huffman then pointed out that the $130,000 cost sheet did not include about $9,000 in painting expenses. Asked why he did not bill the Hedgecocks for the painting, Columna said it was because “I was not going to be responsible” for guaranteeing the quality of the work after “pulling off” the renovation job.

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Columna added that, after locating additional unpaid bills, he submitted a second cost sheet of $169,943. Hedgecock says he paid the nearly $40,000 in bills not covered by Hoover’s loan himself.

Ron Harris, who works for Columna and was the day-to-day supervisor of the Hedgecock project, later agreed that the original $130,000 bill was a valid one based on the receipts in hand at the time the bill was prepared.

However, Andy Carey, a carpenter formerly employed by Columna, testified that he was present when Columna and Harris were preparing the cost sheet and that Harris had said he was “juggling figures . . . to try to reach a figure of either $130,000 or $150,000.”

Carey added that Harris said that more than $200,000 had been spent on the renovation but that he was “trying to eliminate certain bills from subcontractors (and) lowering the amounts” of other bills to reduce the total cost figure.

“Did he say whether the Hedgecocks were aware of that ($200,000) figure?” Huffman asked.

“He said, ‘Certainly, yes,’ ” Carey responded.

During cross-examination, Pancer sought to discredit Carey’s testimony by suggesting that he was angry at Columna because he had lost about $12,000 that he had invested in a J. David account. However, while lamenting his loss of what he termed “a nice piece of change,” Carey said he has “nothing at all against Mr. Columna.”

Pressed by Pancer to substantiate his claim that Harris had falsified the renovation cost sheet, Carey conceded that, while going over the bills with a member of the district attorney’s office, he had been unable to “find anything that was totally deleted.” However, he said he could “tell very distinctly there were numerous alterations” on some bills, including one for heating and air conditioning.

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“You can see right on the bill where numbers were scratched off,” Carey said.

As he has repeatedly throughout the trial, Pancer then attempted to put distance between Hedgecock and any possible wrongdoing by trying to show that, even if the $130,000 bill was inaccurate--and he did not concede that it was--Hedgecock had no knowledge of the error.

“You’ve never met or talked with Roger Hedgecock?” Pancer asked.

“No, sir,” Carey said.

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