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Hedgecock Resigns as Mayor, Gets Year Term : San Diego Official ‘Violated the Public Trust in Onerous Way,’ Judge Says of Election Funds Case

Times Staff Writer

In a dramatic, rapid-paced conclusion to what he himself called “the country’s longest-running political soap opera,” Mayor Roger Hedgecock resigned Tuesday and was sentenced to one year in county custody after losing his bid to overturn his felony conviction for campaign law violations.

Saying that Hedgecock “violated the public trust in an onerous, onerous way” by accepting tens of thousands of dollars in illegal 1983 campaign donations, Superior Court Judge William L. Todd Jr. sentenced Hedgecock late Tuesday afternoon, shortly after rejecting the mayor’s bid for a new trial based on allegations of jury tampering.

Todd, who also fined Hedgecock $1,000 and placed him on three years’ probation, allowed Hedgecock to remain free on his own recognizance pending the outcome of his appeal of his 13-count conspiracy and perjury conviction. One of the terms of Hedgecock’s probation is that he not seek public office during the three-year period.

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Longer Term Rejected

Although Todd termed Hedgecock’s conduct “reprehensible in every sense of the word,” the judge rejected Deputy Dist. Atty. Charles Wickersham’s recommendation that Hedgecock be sentenced to a three-year state prison term and a $75,000 fine. Todd said that “punishment has already been received and accepted” by Hedgecock through his loss of office and public embarrassment.

In asking for Todd’s mercy, Hedgecock explained that he and his family “have suffered as public a humiliation, as public a branding . . . as possibly could be imagined” throughout nearly two years of investigation and trials stemming from his personal and campaign finances.

“We have suffered financially to the point of being broke to defend me against these charges,” Hedgecock added. Asking that he be allowed to “continue working . . . for the citizenry” of San Diego, Hedgecock requested that he be placed on probation and allowed to serve in a work-release program designed to benefit the homeless.

A probation report prepared by the Orange County Probation Department--which was asked to handle the matter because Hedgecock had jurisdiction over the local probation department while serving as a county supervisor--had recommended that Hedgecock be placed in a work-release program for six months and placed on three years’ probation.

Less than an hour before he was sentenced and shortly after Todd’s rejection of his motion for a new trial, Hedgecock resigned as mayor of California’s second-largest city, a post that he has held since winning a special May, 1983, election to select a successor to the former mayor, Pete Wilson, who was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1982. Had he not stepped down, Hedgecock would have been ousted from office at the moment sentence was imposed by Todd.

In an impromptu news conference outside the courtroom, Hedgecock invoked the words of Abraham Lincoln. “Some years ago, a great American at the moment of a particularly bitter defeat, said that ‘it hurts too much to laugh, but I’m too old to cry.’ And that’s the way I feel at this moment,” he said.

Loyal Following

Hedgecock, who retained an intense following despite his legal problems, received applause from dozens of spectators in the courthouse hallway after he completed his resignation speech by encouraging “those who would aspire to follow me” to pursue his “great dream that San Diego in fact could become America’s finest city.”

The scene inside the courtroom also was filled with drama, particularly during Hedgecock’s request for a moderate sentence, in which he said that he was “personally shattered” but accepted the jury’s guilty verdict. Throughout Hedgecock’s remarks, his father, Les Hedgecock, put his arm around and comforted the former mayor’s wife, Cindy, who frequently wiped tears from her eyes.

Earlier, after a four-hour hearing, Todd denied Hedgecock’s motion for a new trial, rejecting two jurors’ sworn allegations that a court bailiff tampered with Hedgecock’s jury during deliberations.

The two jurors’ affidavits alleged that bailiff Al Burroughs Jr. frequently talked with the jurors about the case and the progress in their deliberations and told them an anecdote about another case dealing with the crucial legal definition of “reasonable doubt.”

Saying that the bailiff “shouldn’t have told the jury anything” and that Burroughs’ remarks “prevented (Hedgecock) from receiving a fair, impartial jury,” Hedgecock attorney Oscar Goodman argued that Hedgecock’s conviction should be reversed “to preserve the integrity of this court.”

Wickersham, however, argued that there was “not one scintilla of evidence” that Burroughs’ conduct had influenced the jurors’ deliberations, adding that awarding Hedgecock a new trial “would be a tragedy.”

Accuracy Questioned

Siding with the prosecutor, Todd questioned the accuracy of the two jurors’ claims of wrongdoing on the part of the bailiff, noting that the 10 other jurors had denied those allegations. In addition, Todd added that even if some of the actions and comments attributed to Burroughs in the two jurors’ affidavits did occur, “the weight of evidence against (Hedgecock) . . . is so great that no prejudice could have resulted.”

Burroughs has served as Todd’s bailiff for several years, and Goodman sought to disqualify the judge from ruling on the jury-tampering motion. But the California Supreme Court earlier this week refused to disqualify Todd.

After Tuesday’s hearing, Wickersham predicted that there is only “a 50-50 chance” that Hedgecock will ever actually serve time in the county jail. Noting that Hedgecock’s appeals could take years to be completed, Wickersham said he expects Hedgecock to do community work in the interim.

“When the appeal is complete he has a right to a new probation report,” Wickersham said. “I’m sure he’ll be able to come back and say, ‘Look at what I’ve done (since the sentencing).’ ”

Meanwhile, Steve Annibali, a spokesman for San Diego County Sheriff John Duffy, said late Tuesday that the sheriff’s office is exploring how much leeway Duffy would have in determining how Hedgecock might spend his year in custody. Annibali added that an initial review of the law seemed to indicate that Hedgecock probably would have to spend some time in jail before becoming eligible to be transferred to an honor camp.

Under city law, the City Council now must decide within 30 days whether to fill the vacancy created by Hedgecock’s resignation through an appointment or, the more likely option, schedule a special election to select a successor to serve out his term, which expires in December, 1988. In the meantime, City Councilman Ed Struiksma will serve as acting mayor by virtue of being deputy mayor, a largely ceremonial post rotated annually among council members.

Those mentioned as possible candidates in a special mayoral election include Police Chief William Kolender; Maureen O’Connor, a former councilwoman whom Hedgecock narrowly defeated in the 1983 mayoral race; Rep. Jim Bates (D-San Diego), and at least three current council members--Struiksma, Bill Cleator and Mike Gotch. If an election is scheduled, the winner must be inaugurated within 150 days.

Noted as much for his abrasive personality as for his legislative achievements, Hedgecock, a 39-year-old former two-term county supervisor, brought a strong record as an environmentalist and a rallying cry to avoid the “Los Angelization of San Diego” to City Hall 31 months ago. Throughout his tenure, Hedgecock persistently invoked that slogan in his frequent legislative battles for growth-management policies designed to prevent unchecked urban sprawl from destroying the amenities--notably, the scenic mid-city canyons and generally unclogged freeways--on which San Diego prides itself.

Hedgecock’s first months in office were heady ones, as his considerable accomplishments--highlighted by his successful fights for construction of a downtown convention center and expansion of the San Diego Trolley--raised his public approval ratings to such heights that his reelection in 1984 appeared to be a fait accompli . In one local poll taken in October, 1983, only 3% of those interviewed disapproved of Hedgecock’s performance in office.

Popularity Drops

However, Hedgecock’s popularity plummeted in early 1984 when he became entangled in the burgeoning scandal surrounding the collapse of J. David & Co., a former La Jolla-based investment company. The firm’s founder, J. David (Jerry) Dominelli, now is in prison after pleading guilty to charges that he defrauded investors of more than $80 million.

Hedgecock was drawn into the Dominelli affair by his admission in February, 1984, that he had received a $130,000 loan to renovate his house based on an oral agreement with Nancy Hoover, a former J. David principal.

Later, it was learned that Hoover and Dominelli had invested more than $360,000 in Tom Shepard & Associates, the political consulting firm that ran Hedgecock’s 1983 and 1984 campaigns.

While Hedgecock characterized the two former J. David executives’ investments in Shepard’s firm as “routine business deals,” prosecutors, noting that Hedgecock was the firm’s major client at the time, viewed the funds as disguised campaign contributions.

In September, 1984, the San Diego County Grand Jury indicted Hedgecock, Hoover, Dominelli and Shepard on charges that they conspired in the alleged scheme; the perjury counts facing Hedgecock charged that he intentionally falsified financial disclosure statements to conceal the plot to circumvent the city’s $250-per-person campaign contribution limit. Hedgecock’s three alleged co-conspirators are scheduled to be tried separately.

The controversy drew former television newscaster and La Jolla millionaire Dick Carlson into the 1984 mayoral race, in which his central theme was that Hedgecock had given San Diego “a black eye.” Hedgecock, however, countered with a Trumanesque “give-'em-hell” style based on the argument that voters had “nothing to lose” by reelecting him because, if he were ultimately convicted, he would be removed from office and a new election held.

Easy Reelection

Hedgecock’s strategy proved a resounding success, as he was reelected by a 58%-42% margin only seven weeks after his indictment--a victory that prompted even his detractors to label him a political Houdini.

That reputation was reinforced by Hedgecock’s first trial, which ended Feb. 13 with a hung jury. The jurors divided 11 to 1 in favor of conviction. Lengthy negotiations followed aimed at resolving the case through a plea bargain, but the talks eventually broke down and the second trial was scheduled.

Then, after Hedgecock’s conviction seemingly assured his ouster from office, the two jurors’ reports of tampering by the bailiff threw the result into doubt again.

Goodman filed a notice of appeal of Hedgecock’s conviction on Tuesday.


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