D.A. calls on Carona to go on leave

Times Staff Writers

Turning up the pressure on Orange County Sheriff Michael S. Carona to step aside, the county’s district attorney on Friday urged the county’s top lawman to take a leave of absence while he fights sweeping corruption charges.

Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas sent a letter to the Board of Supervisors asking them to pass a resolution asking Carona to step aside and appoint a qualified member of his command staff to take over.

“He will clearly be required to spend his full time and attention on matters involving this indictment,” Rackauckas wrote.

Unyielding, Carona has remained steadfast in his desire to remain head of the state’s second-largest sheriff’s department while he fights the allegations.


“I am a good sheriff,” he said in an interview earlier this week.

In his own letter to supervisors, Carona repeated that he had “absolutely no intention of resigning” and said that he and his top assistants were “formulating a plan to allow the command staff to handle day-to-day operations during those times that I will need to devote my time and attention to exonerating my wife and myself.”

Carona, his wife and his former mistress were named this week in a sweeping criminal indictment, which alleges a broad conspiracy to sell access to the sheriff’s office for tens of thousands of dollars and gifts such as a boat, pricey watches and tickets to the World Series and a Las Vegas boxing match.

The sheriff, his wife and the ex-mistress are scheduled to be in court Monday.

The district attorney’s letter came during another day of pushing and shoving between Carona’s camp and a growing number of critics who are demanding he turn in his badge or at least step aside.

Pressure mounted all week from every corner of the county, with supervisors, newspaper columnists, members of his Republican party and the public taking sharp aim at his decision to stay in office.

Assemblyman Todd Spitzer (R-Orange) joined the chorus Friday, agreeing with Rackauckas that “there’s no way” Carona could run the department and simultaneously wage his court battle.

“If he wants to fight the charges, that’s his right,” Spitzer said. “But if this were a rank-and-file employee, they would have to be on administrative leave. He should take administrative leave.”

Supervisor Bill Campbell said he met with the sheriff Thursday to try to persuade him to appoint an interim leader to handle day-to-day operations. Campbell had been planning to propose as much at next week’s board meeting. But he said Friday that he dropped the idea after Carona gave him the impression that he planned to step aside.

Later, however, a Carona spokesman took exception to Cambell’s interpretation of the meeting with Carona. He said that in no way was Carona stepping aside.

Carona could not be reached for comment.

Supervisor John Moorlach, the lone board member who has called on Carona to resign, said Friday that he would settle for nothing short of a resignation. He has no plans to pull a proposal from next week’s agenda that would give the board the power to remove an elected official from office for neglect of duty.

“He needs to resign; we’re not talking caretaker government here,” Moorlach said.

Moorlach said taxpayers and the board shouldn’t be put in the position of waiting for someone’s trial or criminal investigation to be over for them to take back the helm. “That’s what this proposal would provide,” Moorlach said. “I don’t want to wait out your term. I don’t want to wait out your trial. I need to manage and need to be concerned about the well-being of the department and the county as a whole.”

Supervisor Chris Norby said he was not sure he would endorse Moorlach’s proposal. But he said residents had been flooding county lines, pushing for a change at the top.

“I know he’s innocent until proven guilty, but he needs to be held to a higher standard because he is an elected official,” Norby said.

Carona met Tuesday with division commanders to discuss the indictment and “to provide direction,” according to a posting on his internal blog. In a message to his troops Thursday, the sheriff sought to strike a tone of encouragement and never mentioned the specific charges against him.

“Regretfully, there continues to be attacks on our department regarding the firestorm surrounding me,” he wrote. In spite of it, he added, “we continue to move forward as an organization united in our mission.”

Undersheriff Jo Ann Galisky, who is likely to assume leadership if Carona relinquishes any duties, cautioned deputies in an earlier Internet posting to “be mindful of the policies concerning media and press contacts as you may be solicited for information.”

One sergeant who agreed to speak only on the condition of anonymity, citing Galisky’s warning, said the indictment is “all anyone can talk about,” not only across the department but “even anyone we contact with in the public.”

“It’s been a complete distraction in getting anything done,” the veteran deputy said.