A high-profile criminal defense attorney filed a $5-million legal claim Monday, accusing Orange County Sheriff Michael S. Carona of bullying and threatening him for representing indicted former Assistant Sheriff George Jaramillo in a corruption case.
In a written claim to the county clerk, Joseph G. Cavallo says the sheriff told him that if he continued to defend the former official, there would be “consequences for his lack of loyalty.”
Filing a claim is a necessary step before a lawsuit can be filed against a public agency.
Jaramillo, 45, was fired last year and later indicted on bribery and conflict-of-interest charges. He has pleaded not guilty and has sued to get his job back.
“Mike Carona indicated that he would bring the full weight of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and Orange County district attorney’s office down on Joseph Cavallo and George Jaramillo,” Cavallo wrote in his claim. He also said he was told by the sheriff that he “has friends and subordinates in the media” and would use them against him.
Cavallo, who says he has been a friend of Carona’s for 20 years, said the sheriff told him he would be considered an enemy for representing Jaramillo and that the sheriff said he was worried about testifying in the case.
Sheriff’s spokesman Jon Fleischman declined to comment on Cavallo’s allegations.
Chuck Middleton, chief assistant district attorney, said his office “filed criminal charges based solely on the evidence” in the case against Jaramillo.
“This latest tactic, common to Mr. Cavallo, is an attempt to divert attention from the actions of his client,” he said.
The claim is the latest twist in a corruption case against Jaramillo. Last week, his sister-in-law accused the sheriff of sexually assaulting her several times during his first term in office.
Erica Hill, who was initially charged but later dismissed by prosecutors as Jaramillo’s co-defendant, said she gave in to Carona’s advances four times because he told her he wouldn’t hire her husband if she didn’t.
Carona has denied Hill’s allegations and said last week he would ask state Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer to investigate. A spokesman for Lockyer said Monday an official request from the sheriff had not been received.
Most of Cavallo’s allegations relate to his defense of Jaramillo. The former assistant sheriff is facing bribery and conflict-of-interest charges stemming from his relationship with a Newport Beach company, CHG Safety Technologies.
Prosecutors allege that Jaramillo, who was paid as a consultant for CHG, used his position as a ranking lawman to help the company show off its invention: a high-tech laser gun that would disable fleeing cars.
In July, once prosecutors decided to present the case to the grand jury, all charges against Hill were dismissed.