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Carona Demotes 2Backers of Rival

Times Staff Writer

Two Orange County sheriff’s employees who supported an unsuccessful challenger to incumbent Sheriff Michael S. Carona in this week’s election were demoted Thursday, as internal turmoil continued in the wake of the rancorous race.

A lieutenant who supported Lt. William Hunt in the campaign was demoted to sergeant, and a sergeant who backed Hunt was reassigned as an investigator.

Hunt supporters criticized the moves as retaliation. Tim Whitacre, Hunt’s campaign advisor, condemned the moves as “thuggery.”

“It’s payback to scare away anyone who would think of taking him on,” Whitacre said, referring to Carona.

Hunt, who garnered 26.5% of the vote, was placed on administrative leave Wednesday, the day after Carona won reelection to a third term. Hunt said he was told he wouldn’t be allowed to work because of ongoing investigations into his election activities.

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An attorney representing Carona said in a statement issued by the department that he had recommended several months ago that Hunt be investigated for “public statements, actions and accusations that went beyond those which are protected by the 1st Amendment and could subject him to adverse employment action.”

The attorney, Martin J. Mayer, said Thursday that Carona needed to evaluate whether any of Hunt’s actions adversely affected his ability to continue serving as a member of the sheriff’s command staff -- and to give everyone involved “some breathing room.”

Mayer said he had recommended Carona put Hunt on leave months ago but the sheriff declined, saying it would be viewed as a political stunt during an election.

“It’s a personnel matter because it deals with his role in the organization,” Mayer said of Hunt.

“There’s a plethora of U.S. Supreme Court cases about the right of elected officials to be able to rely on senior people who are acting on their behalf.”

Carona, reelected with 51% of the vote, couldn’t be reached Thursday for comment.

About 5,000 ballots remain to be counted.

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Cmdr. Ralph Martin earned 17% of the vote, and a fourth candidate, retired Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy Robert Alcaraz, got 5.5% even after dropping out of the race and endorsing Hunt.

Carona still faces questions regarding some of his own campaign activities and actions by one of his former assistant sheriffs.

Hunt said he was looking for a lawyer to represent him but wasn’t sure how to proceed without knowing the basis for the investigations.

“I have no idea what they’re even alleging,” he said.

It was deja vu for Wally Wade, who ran and lost twice against his former boss, Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas.

After the first defeat, Wade was placed on administrative leave, as was Brent Romney, who also ran against Rackauckas.

They both eventually went back to work; Romney later retired. Wade was sent to prosecute auto-insurance fraud, considered a lesser assignment than the high-profile criminal cases he had been handling.

“Believe me, it’s no fun with a family to support waiting for the phone to ring and not knowing what’s going to happen to you,” said Wade, who was placed on leave for several weeks.

“It’s cowardly of Mike Carona to do this.”

Wade said his advice for Hunt is not to get discouraged.

After Wade’s second defeat, he and six other prosecutors were moved to a child-support division that was taken over months later by the state. Wade still works there.

“You shouldn’t be intimidated,” Wade said of people who run against their boss.

“We need people to stand up and take a chance because things are wrong with the status quo and they think they can improve it. “

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Times staff writer Christine Hanley contributed to this report.


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