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Carmony Defense Puts Blame on Pringle, Aide

TIMES POLITICAL WRITER

A lawyer for defendant Rhonda Carmony said Monday that she had a minimal role in a criminal conspiracy to place a decoy Democrat on the ballot in a key election in 1995.

In closing arguments of Carmony’s election fraud trial, defense attorney Creighton Laz put the blame on Assembly Minority Leader Curt Pringle (R-Garden Grove) and his chief of staff, Jeff Flint.

“This was the Curt and Jeff show,” Laz said, referring to the defense theory that Pringle and Flint ran the effort to splinter the Democratic vote in the 1995 election to recall and replace then-Assemblywoman Doris Allen.

Allen was recalled and replaced by Assemblyman Scott Baugh (R-Huntington Beach), who cast the deciding vote to elect Pringle speaker of the Assembly.

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Pringle has denied knowledge of the effort, while Flint has maintained that he did nothing illegal.

Carmony, 27, is campaign director for Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) and is his fiancee. She is charged with three felonies for her alleged role in helping Democrat Laurie Campbell falsify nomination papers to dilute the Democratic vote.

Three GOP aides pleaded guilty last year to charges of making false nominating petitions for Campbell, who filed as a Democrat in the election to oust Allen.

The case is complicated by the fact that putting a decoy candidate on the ballot is not illegal.

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Laz’s statements filled much of the afternoon in Orange County Superior Court on Monday as each side delivered the first half of its closing arguments, which will resume at 9:30 a.m. today.

In a contrasting presentation in the morning, the prosecution described Carmony as the prime mover in the GOP scheme. Assistant Dist. Atty. Brent Romney ridiculed the defense position that Carmony was only marginally involved.

“She is not a stamp-licking, envelope-stuffing person who is not a strategist, who doesn’t think for herself,” he said.

Both sides challenged witnesses in the case, using charts and piles of telephone records to back up key points or dispute testimony. And both sides agreed that some testimony was tainted or incredible and that the jury would have to wrestle with multiple discrepancies.

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The defense insisted, however, that the logical end of such inconsistency is acquittal.

The ultimate conflict in testimony was between Campbell and Jeff Gibson, manager of the Allen recall campaign and one of the GOP aides who pleaded guilty.

According to testimony, Campbell met with Carmony in Campbell’s car a few minutes before the candidate filing deadline on Sept. 21, 1995. Parked outside the registrar of voters’ office, Campbell signed as circulator on eight nominating petitions. Prosecutors say she signed the papers to conceal that GOP aides had actually gathered her signatures for her.

Gibson testified that he watched as Carmony directed Campbell to sign the petitions. Campbell, however, testified that Gibson ran the show while Carmony was a virtual bystander.

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Superior Court Judge Francisco P. Briseno told lawyers outside the presence of the jury that some of Campbell’s testimony was “implausible.” But he said the jury can draw its own conclusions.

Carmony chose not to take the stand. Flint, asserting his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination, did not appear.

Prosecutors have pointed out that Flint’s alleged involvement would not relieve Carmony from responsibility in the scheme.

Laz, in a 2 1/2-hour discourse, picked at the prosecution case and placed the blame on Pringle, Flint and the California Independent Business Political Action Committee. Both sides in the case agree that pressure to get a decoy candidate on the ballot came from the then-powerful PAC, run by Orange County philanthropist Howard Ahmanson.

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“Curt Pringle is ‘buds’ with Ahmanson,” Laz said. “There is the connection.”

Laz described Carmony as a liaison whose job was largely “just passing [Rohrabacher’s] wishes back and forth.”

His major attack was on the credibility of Gibson, Richard Martin and Mark Denny--the three aides who pleaded guilty last year. They testified at the trial that they circulated petitions for Campbell knowing that they would not sign them.

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Laz also described Campbell as a credible witness. Propping a life-size photograph of her in the witness chair, he said she gave testimony knowing that doing so could lead to her prosecution.

“She keeps telling you it was Jeff Gibson,” he said, while Romney “pounds on her and pounds on her. To me that is compelling testimony.”

Romney took sharp issue with defense arguments that Carmony did not participate in the conspiracy and never intended to have Campbell sign the papers.

Holding one of the nominating petitions, Romney asked jurors to examine it closely. The petition is signed by four voters in a single family, three of whom omitted their address. Registrar officials do not count signatures that lack an address.

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Campbell testified that Carmony filled in the blank addresses while in her car.

“Carmony not only fills [the addresses] in but she changes her handwriting so the registrar . . . won’t suspect that something is amiss,” Romney said. “Look at those three lines . . . and ask yourself: Is she sophisticated? Does she know what she is doing? Of course she does.”

Romney said Carmony’s motive for getting Campbell on the ballot was to help Baugh win the financial backing of Ahmanson and the PAC. Baugh was Rohrabacher’s handpicked candidate for Allen’s Assembly seat.

Romney did not defend the credibility of Gibson or Denny but went to great lengths to back the testimony of Martin, who said Carmony directed him to contact Campbell at Baugh’s suggestion and ordered him twice to circulate petitions for her.

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Romney also suggested that jurors use the phone records to help decide the issue of credibility. Records indicate calls between phones used by Carmony, Denny, Martin and Flint on the day of the filing deadline, then after 5 p.m. to the offices of Pringle, Baugh and state Sen. John R. Lewis (R-Orange).

“There is Rhonda Carmony in the last hour on Sept. 21. You can see what she is doing,” he said. “She is trying to gather everybody together to meet at the registrar of voters’ office and get those documents signed. For 15 or 20 minutes that is what she does, then she is back on the telephone contacting people to tell them what is going on.”


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