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Lockyer Seeks End to Prosecution of Baugh

TIMES STAFF WRITER

State Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer said Saturday he will ask an Orange County judge on Monday to dismiss criminal charges against Assemblyman Scott Baugh (R-Huntington Beach) for alleged campaign misconduct stemming from his 1995 election.

Lockyer said he will refer the 3-year-old case to the state Fair Political Practices Commission, which levies civil fines for violations of California’s campaign reporting laws.

The move frees Baugh from the threat of felony convictions and removal from the Legislature. Baugh, in his final term of office, faced up to eight years in prison if convicted on two felony charges and 10 misdemeanor counts originally brought by the Orange County district attorney’s office.

Lockyer said there were several reasons for his motion asking Orange County Superior Court Judge Francisco Briseno to dismiss the criminal charges. Among them: unreliable testimony by a key prosecution witness and an appellate court ruling in a Los Angeles case that campaign violations are not suitable for criminal prosecution.

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Lockyer said veteran attorneys in his office spent hundreds of hours analyzing the evidence against Baugh after Briseno removed local prosecutors from the case last year, finding they were biased against Baugh.

“The key witness, the campaign treasurer, has proven to be totally unreliable [and] unconvincing, and that was the essence of the case,” Lockyer said Saturday.

Baugh said he hadn’t been notified of Lockyer’s decision but was “cautiously delighted.” He was indicted three years ago today.

“My gut reaction is that my whole public life has been this [case] but I’ve been able to thrive despite it,” he said. “There hasn’t been a day that’s gone by that this wasn’t a deep concern for me. I’m fortunate that my wife, Wendy, and my family and friends stood by me every step of the way.”

Sending the high-profile case to the elections commission would spell an anticlimactic end to the long and bitter battle over Baugh’s prosecution that ruptured the Orange County Republican Party and made once-popular Dist. Atty. Mike Capizzi an outcast in his own party.

The breach was so deep that Capizzi, who obtained guilty pleas from three GOP aides involved in the Baugh election for other violations, was openly scorned by Republican comrades when he ran last year for attorney general. He was defeated soundly in the primary by former Deputy Atty. Gen. David Stirling, who lost in November to Lockyer, a Democrat.

Capizzi, who now works as a private attorney, could not be reached Saturday for comment.

Baugh argued from the beginning that mistakes were made on his campaign reports but that he had no criminal intent and was merely following the advice of his campaign treasurer, Daniel Traxler. He argued that the case should have been handled by the Fair Political Practices Commission, and agreed that fines were appropriate punishment.

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But prosecutors insisted that Baugh was part of a conspiracy to manipulate voters in the critical election to ensure Republican control of the state Assembly.

A key allegation centered on a $1,000 contribution to Baugh from the husband of a Democratic candidate. That candidate, Laurie Campbell, was recruited to run by a cadre of GOP activists who hoped to split the Democratic vote and thereby assure a Republican victory. Baugh initially accepted the money, but later returned it in cash, though state law forbids campaign transactions of more than $100 in cash.

The money wasn’t reported on Baugh’s contribution statements until after the election. Voters chose Baugh, an attorney, to replace recalled Assemblywoman Doris Allen (R-Cypress), who had angered Republicans by becoming Assembly speaker with the support of Democrats.

Baugh later cast his vote for Assembly Speaker Curt Pringle (R-Garden Grove). Pringle’s office and a Republican political committee ultimately were linked to the scheme to put the Democratic decoy candidate on the ballot.

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Capizzi originally brought a 22-count indictment against Baugh on March 21, 1996. The charges were dismissed later that year by Orange County Superior Court Judge James Smith, who ruled that prosecutors had manipulated the grand jury. Capizzi refiled the charges.

Baugh and his attorneys continued to insist that the mistakes on his campaign report were made by Traxler. In a September 1997 declaration for Baugh’s attorneys, Traxler admitted lying to the district attorney’s investigators about Baugh’s involvement, but said he did so because he feared being prosecuted if he didn’t cooperate. Traxler also admitted signing Baugh’s name to one campaign report that Baugh didn’t even see.

When Briseno removed Capizzi’s office from prosecuting the remaining charges last year, the judge was critical of “very grave misconduct” by prosecutors.

In January, incoming Dist. Atty. Anthony J. Rackauckas, a former judge, dropped the office’s appeal of Briseno’s ruling. Rackauckas said the Baugh case posed a conflict of interest for him because he had discussed it with two colleagues while still on the bench.

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Baugh’s political mentor, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, said Saturday that Lockyer’s actions are vindication for three years of fighting overzealous local prosecutors.

Rohrabacher’s wife, Rhonda Carmony, was one of the GOP aides convicted for breaking campaign laws while helping Campbell qualify for the 1995 ballot.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

The History of Baugh Case

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June 6, 1995: Orange County Republicans launch a recall campaign against Assemblywoman Doris Allen (R-Cypress), who was elected Assembly speaker a day earlier with Democratic support to replace Democratic Speaker Willie Brown.

Sept. 21, 1995: Six people file to become candidates to serve the rest of Allen’s term if she is recalled. They include Republican Scott Baugh, and Democrat Laurie Campbell.

Oct. 21, 1995: A Sacramento County judge removes Campbell from the Nov. 28 special election ballot, ruling that she hadn’t collected her own voter signatures to qualify.

Nov. 28, 1995: Allen is recalled and Baugh is elected to replace her.

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Jan. 4, 1996: Republicans take control of the Assembly, and Curt Pringle (R-Garden Grove) is elected Assembly speaker with Baugh’s vote.

March 1996: Three Republican campaign aides plead guilty to single misdemeanors for illegally obtaining signatures to help Campbell qualify for the ballot. One of the aides works for Pringle.

March 21, 1996: Baugh is indicted on five felony and 17 misdemeanor counts by Orange County Dist. Atty. Mike Capizzi.

March 26, 1996: Baugh easily wins the Republican primary election for the 67th Assembly District seat.

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Sept. 10, 1996: Superior Court Judge James Smith dismisses 17 of the 22 counts against Baugh, citing prosecutorial misconduct.

Oct. 9, 1996: Capizzi refiles 18 charges against Baugh.

Nov. 5, 1996: Baugh is reelected.

Nov. 26, 1997: Judge dismisses three of five felony counts still pending against Baugh, leaving two felonies and 10 misdemeanors.

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Dec. 4, 1997: Rhonda Carmony, wife of Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach), pleads guilty to falsifying candidacy documents filed by Campbell.

June 2, 1998: Baugh is reelected to a final term.

July 15, 1998: Superior Court Judge Francisco Briseno removes Capizzi’s office from prosecuting Baugh, gives case to the state attorney general’s office.

Jan. 15, 1999: Dist. Atty. Anthony J. Rackauckas drops the county’s appeal of Briseno’s ruling.

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March 20, 1999: Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer announces he will ask Briseno to dismiss the criminal charges against Baugh.


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