Resign, Sheriff Carona

Brian Gurwitz, a former Orange County senior deputy district attorney, is currently in private practice.

More than 50 years ago, an attorney who watched in disgust while Sen. Joseph McCarthy unfairly smeared the reputation of a young man interrupted the senator to ask: “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”

The public needs to direct these questions to Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona, who has said that he will not resign despite a federal indictment on felony corruption charges.

The allegations in the indictment are shocking. They chronicle the wholesale abuse of office -- for political and financial gain -- by Carona, his wife, his alleged mistress Debra V. Hoffman, former assistant sheriffs George Jaramillo and Donald Haidl and longtime friend Joseph Cavallo. Court documents show that Jaramillo and Haidl already have pleaded guilty in this case.

The indictment was no surprise to those who follow Orange County politics. Numerous allegations of misconduct against Carona have been publicized since his first term in office, which began in 1999. Rumors of a federal grand jury investigation have been circulating for more than a year. And Jaramillo and Cavallo were recently convicted in state court for their roles in other felonies relating to the operation of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. (Full disclosure: I was a prosecutor in those cases and in a rape case against Haidl’s son, Gregory. Federal prosecutors have alleged that Carona unlawfully interfered with the prosecution of the rape case.)


Carona told reporters that he wants to remain at the helm of his department “because I love the job and I do a good job” and because “I have committed no criminal acts.” Carona’s love for the job and his opinion that he does it well are inconsequential. The public’s confidence in the integrity of California’s second-largest sheriff’s department takes precedence over his job satisfaction. The Board of Supervisors could easily fill a vacancy from among numerous candidates who would also love the job and who have distinguished law enforcement careers untainted by corruption allegations.

And Carona’s suggestion that he is entitled to hold office unless and until he is convicted also misses the mark. The sheriff is presumed innocent. But the Constitution does not prevent the public from demanding that their sheriff be a leader of unquestioned integrity, rather than a criminal defendant who faces up to 105 years in prison if convicted on all charges.

Within hours of the unsealing of the indictment, Carona’s attorneys and advisors staged a media event. Members of the news media were individually invited into a room as he gave prepared statements. But he refused to answer any specific questions about the charges. This was not surprising, but it is also intolerable. Carona has a right to remain silent, but the public should not entrust him with an annual budget of almost half a billion dollars and the command of nearly 4,000 employees while he refuses to publicly and thoroughly answer the charges.

If any of Carona’s employees were indicted for work-related felony misconduct, they would be suspended immediately -- or, at the very least, put on leave. Sadly, Carona feels no duty to hold himself to the same standard. It is therefore disappointing that during the 48 hours after Carona’s indictment, only one member of the Board of Supervisors -- John Moorlach -- called for his resignation.

State law limits the supervisors’ control over the operations of the sheriff’s department, but the supervisors and other local officials should take a leadership role and demand that Carona resign. Unfortunately, it may take public pressure to lead him to the decision that a sense of decency alone should compel. But the citizens of Orange County, and the sworn officers who risk their lives to protect them, deserve a sheriff with the moral authority to lead.