An Orange County Superior Court judge Wednesday dismissed a juror from the panel deciding the fate of Republican campaign aide Rhonda Carmony, forcing the jury to start deliberations again from scratch.
The removal came after an unexpected two-hour hearing in the felony trial of Carmony, 27, accused of breaking election laws by allegedly helping a spoiler Democrat qualify for the November 1995 special election, in which Assemblywoman Doris Allen (R-Cypress) was recalled.
The jury began deliberations Wednesday morning as scheduled. But 90 minutes after they began, Jeff Butler, a campaign volunteer for Carmony’s fiance, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) was ushered into the courtroom to testify outside the jury’s presence. Jurors then were brought before Judge Francisco P. Briseno and questioned individually.
Carmony’s attorney, Creighton Laz, asked for the courtroom to be closed to the media, saying Butler’s statement would be of a “personal” and “sensitive” nature. He declined to elaborate.
Shortly after noon, a male alternate juror was hastily called to the courtroom and ordered to begin new deliberations with the rest of the panel. Court officials declined to identify the excused juror, one of nine men and three women who sat through the three-week trial.
Briseno later sealed the transcript of Butler’s statements and subsequent juror questioning, saying it was necessary to protect the defendant’s right to a fair trial. He also admonished everyone in the courtroom against speaking about what happened.
Laz and Assistant Dist. Atty. Brent Romney declined to discuss the reasons for the dismissal but characterized it as insignificant.
“Sometimes you have complications in a trial and this is a complication,” Laz said. “I don’t think it will affect the deliberations.”
The jury went home Wednesday and was scheduled to resume its task this morning. Jurors had deliberated for about three hours before being told to start over.
Butler also declined comment on his court appearance. He was listed as a potential witness in the case but wasn’t called by either side.
Butler testified twice before the grand jury that indicted Carmony, saying she asked him to deliver nomination forms on the deadline day for candidate filing to GOP recall aide Jeff Gibson and Mark Denny, then an aide for Assemblyman Curt Pringle (R-Garden Grove). He also testified that Pringle’s chief of staff, Jeff Flint, came up with the idea to have decoy candidate Laurie Campbell sign the petitions even though she hadn’t circulated them herself.
Gibson and Denny each pleaded guilty last year to misdemeanors for collecting signatures for Campbell but failing to sign as circulators. They said the scheme to assist Campbell onto the ballot was orchestrated by Carmony.
Campbell testified during the trial that it was Gibson, not Carmony, who instructed her to falsely sign the petitions.
During closing arguments, Romney characterized Carmony as instrumental in getting Campbell’s paperwork completed while allegedly violating election laws to hide the involvement of GOP workers. He argued that Flint--earlier named as an unindicted co-conspirator and whom the defense blamed for any illegalities--could have been the “maestro” with Carmony’s help.
The winner-take-all election recalled Allen, who had angered conservatives by becoming speaker through a deal brokered by former longtime Democratic Assembly Speaker Willie Brown. Allen’s seat was won by Scott Baugh, whose candidacy was backed by Rohrabacher.
Testimony during the trial outlined Republicans’ concern that the four GOP candidates on the ballot would split the vote and hand the election to a Democrat unless additional Democrats could be found to run. At stake was Republican control of the Assembly and the expectation that Pringle would be elected speaker and replace Allen.