Ex-O.C. Judge Watched Over a 3-Year Period : Documents Just Released Detail Surveillance of Carter's Friends and Questioning of His Staff

Times Staff Writers

The Orange County district attorney's office on Wednesday released documents detailing for the first time how it conducted a highly unusual, 3-year investigation of former Harbor Municipal Judge Brian R. Carter that included surveillance of his friends and interrogation of his staff.

The 2-inch-thick sheaf of papers, obtained under a Freedom of Information request by The Times Orange County Edition, shows that the district attorney's investigation focused in great part on a 1985 incident in which Carter allegedly used his office to help the girlfriend of a friend who had accumulated traffic tickets. Deputy Dist. Atty. Wallace J. Wade said an additional 200-plus pages of documents pertaining to the Carter investigation would be released today.

Law enforcement officials have declined to say who requested the inquiry, which they acknowledged was unusual because of its duration--from 1984 to 1987--and because it involved a sitting judge.

Carter retired last month amid an investigation by the state Commission on Judicial Performance, which sources have said was looking into allegations of preferential treatment. The commission dropped its investigation after Carter announced that he would resign.

Carter, 63, declined comment on the district attorney's investigation when reached at his home late Wednesday.

"I'm retired. I'm enjoying my retirement. Let them (district attorney's officials) play their games," said Carter, who has denied any wrongdoing in any of the allegations.

Wade said the fact that the district attorney's office did not prosecute Carter should not be interpreted as meaning that it found no wrongdoing.

"It was not our function to look into any ethical aspects of this. Our role was to see whether, in our judgment, we felt we could prove any criminal misconduct. And after an extensive investigation, it was pretty clear to us that we could not go into a court of law and win with what we had."

Wade said that the evidence wasn't there "for a number of reasons, which will be more clear once all the documents are released." Wade noted that his office had difficulty getting some witnesses to cooperate.

The district attorney's office released the documents Wednesday only because the commission's investigation has ended, Wade said. The reason that only half the documents were available was "purely a function of the copy machine. It was all we could get ready by the end of the day."

Among the new disclosures in the documents:

- Carter's bailiff, Edward M. Romero, said Carter once ordered him to "be a little bit nicer" to Jeffrey John Harbison, a former law client and golfing partner of Carter. Court records show that Carter intervened in the case by ordering Orange County Jail officials to release Harbison on his own recognizance after he had been arrested on a misdemeanor drug-possession charge.

- Romero said Carter also ordered him to go to a cashier's window in the courthouse and personally dispose of a parking citation that was given Harbison and Harbison's girlfriend, Susan M. Edwards. Romero said the judge gave him $2 to pay the parking fine and also gave him papers to give Harbison and Edwards extensions on attending traffic school.

Carter was first placed under investigation by Newport Beach police and the district attorney's office in 1984 when he was overheard in a tape-recorded phone conversation arranging a rendezvous with a prostitute. The district attorney's file shows that surveillance was a part of its ensuing probe.

On May 1, 1986, the file shows, four district attorney's investigators were detailed to follow Edwards and Harbison after they were interviewed about Carter at their Newport Beach home by Newport Beach Police Sgt. Richard Long and district attorney's investigator John Gier.

The surveillance continued for 5 hours, during which the investigators tracked them throughout the city and then lost Edwards after "it became obvious that Edwards was aware of this surveillance." A short time later, an investigator monitoring the couple's home reported seeing Carter drive up to the address and talk briefly outside with Harbison before driving away.

In addition, the district attorney's investigators interrogated Carter's bailiff, his court clerk and clerical workers in other parts of the Harbor courthouse, the records show.

Much of the questioning centered on what individual members of the court knew about Carter's ordering bailiff Romero in September, 1985, to remove nine of Edwards' traffic offenses from the desk of Harbor Court Judge Susanne S. Shaw. Court records show that Carter then dismissed all but one of the offenses, fining Edwards $35 for unsafe speed and sending her to traffic school.

Romero, when questioned by district attorney's investigators, said that Carter told him to pick up the citations from Shaw's desk and that Shaw complied after writing down the case numbers and asking several questions about why Carter wanted them. Shaw subsequently complained to Newport Beach police and the district attorney's office, sources said.

Romero, reached at his home Wednesday night, declined to comment.

Carter, a 1982 gubernatorial appointee to the Harbor Court bench, announced his retirement in mid-January. It became effective Saturday. The announcement came shortly after the Commission on Judicial Performance announced that it would conduct hearings into allegations that both Carter and Harbor Court Judge Calvin P. Schmidt gave preferential treatment to friends and courtroom favors to prostitutes.

The investigation into Schmidt continues, sources said.

The commission also is investigating Judges Russell Bostrom and Selim Franklin because of allegations that they tried to pressure Newport Beach city officials into ending a police inquiry into Carter and Schmidt, sources said. The commission also reportedly is looking into allegations that Shaw conducted herself on the bench in a manner unbecoming a judge.

The commission, which operates in virtual secrecy, has declined comment. It launched its own inquiry after investigations of Carter and Schmidt by both the district attorney's office and Newport Beach Police Department ended without any charges being filed.

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