A judge rejected defense attorneys' efforts Monday to bar the Orange County district attorney's office from prosecuting the son of a ranking sheriff's official accused of gang-raping a teenage girl.
The ruling was a victory for prosecutors, who have charged Gregory Haidl, the 18-year-old son of Orange County Assistant Sheriff Donald Haidl, with raping an unconscious 16-year-old girl during a party in 2002 along with friends Kyle Nachreiner and Keith Spann. The alleged sexual assault, which was videotaped, took place at the elder Haidl's Corona del Mar home.
Defense attorneys contend Haidl cannot receive a fair trial because Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas is pursuing the case aggressively to polish his political reputation. By going after the son of a former campaign contributor, defense attorneys argue, Rackauckas can shed the image as a prosecutor who goes lightly on friends and allies.
Rackauckas has rejected that claim and said Monday that Superior Court Judge Francisco P. Briseno's ruling confirms his office's impartiality. The district attorney's comments at an afternoon news conference were his first public remarks on the case.
"This motion was just an attempt by the defense to divert attention from the facts of this case," Rackauckas said.
Since Haidl was arrested, Rackauckas said, he has deferred decision-making to the prosecutors under him. "This case is going to be done in a fashion that doesn't favor or disfavor this person because of who he is," he said.
Defense attorneys also contend that prosecutors have been interfering with witnesses and withholding documents. "There has been a pattern of improper conduct," said defense attorney E. Thomas Dunn Jr. during a hearing on the motion. "The pattern of behavior and paying attention to this case shows this defendant has been singled out."
In the wake of a disparaging Orange County Grand Jury report on Rackauckas and growing criticism within the legal community, the district attorney has seen Haidl's case as a vehicle for redemption, defense attorney Joseph G. Cavallo told the judge.
The California attorney general's office would have taken the case had Briseno disqualified county prosecutors.
Deputy Atty. Gen. Michael T. Murphy said he saw nothing in the defense motions that led him to believe Haidl would not receive a fair trial, despite the judge's statements that some prosecutorial behavior could be considered flawed.
After reading the ruling, Murphy said, "We're obviously pleased with the judge's ruling, and it's what we expected."
His office asserted that Haidl's conduct as captured on videotape spoke for itself.
"Try as he may to blame the district attorney or his father's status for his current predicament," the attorney general's opinion read, "the images preserved on the videotape show that defendant himself earned the right to answer the charges in Superior Court, and that the district attorney is well within his discretion to prosecute this case in the manner that he has."
After viewing the tape, Briseno wrote that "any rational, responsible law-enforcement personnel" would have handled the case the same way.
Asked about defense claims that the tape will show that sexual activity was consensual, Rackauckas disagreed:
"This is a 16-year-old girl and she is unconscious. The tape will show that. If she is unconscious, she can't consent -- period."