The state attorney general has concluded that acting Orange County Sheriff Jack Anderson broke the law last year when he appeared in uniform before the San Clemente City Council and tried to discourage it from endorsing a former lieutenant for sheriff.
In a warning letter released Thursday, the attorney general’s office informed Anderson that his prepared remarks and purpose for attending the council meeting were clearly political and that he should not have been in uniform when he made his presentation.
Anderson was an assistant sheriff at the time.
The letter amounts to a public scolding and does not suggest that Anderson committed a crime.
But it could leave the acting sheriff open to a civil lawsuit, according to the letter written by Senior Assistant Atty. Gen. Gary Schons. If county resources were used to facilitate his appearance at the meeting, it might have been a crime, Schons wrote.
The attorney general issued only a warning partly because Anderson cooperated in the investigation, appeared sincere in his belief that he was engaging in appropriate department business, and was told it was OK to wear the uniform by his superior at the time, Undersheriff Jo Ann Galisky.
Anderson, who was told in the letter to refrain from such conduct, said in a statement Thursday that Schons “correctly noted that my intentions were in good faith.”
“I have always understood it to be perfectly appropriate to appear before legislative bodies such as the Board of Supervisors or a city council while in uniform regarding matters of public policy involving the Sheriff’s Department,” Anderson wrote. “I appreciate Mr. Schons’ advice and will be guided accordingly.”
Anderson’s appearance before the City Council on Nov. 20 rekindled some of the enmity that marked the highly charged political race between former Lt. Bill Hunt and then-Sheriff Michael S. Carona.
Hunt was chief of police services in San Clemente under Carona when he ran against his boss, using scandals dogging the Sheriff’s Department as an election theme.
The day after Carona was reelected, he demoted Hunt for making statements in the campaign that he saw as a violation of department rules. Hunt chose to retire instead and is now suing the department.
Carona was indicted late last year along with his wife and a longtime mistress in a federal corruption case. His trial is scheduled to start June 10.
During the San Clemente meeting, the City Council was considering sending a formal letter to county supervisors, asking them to appoint Hunt if Carona were to step down in the face of the criminal charges.
Anderson told them Hunt was not qualified to serve as sheriff and urged the council not to endorse anyone.
The council voted unanimously to table the matter after hearing from Anderson, but after Carona resigned, the council endorsed Hunt.
Anderson, Carona’s hand-picked successor, has since announced that he wants to be the full-time sheriff and is competing for the job against Hunt and several other candidates. The Board of Supervisors will have the final say.
Hunt supporter Tim Whitacre, who filed the complaint leading to the review of Anderson’s conduct, said Thursday he was disappointed that the attorney general did not follow through with the second part of his request, which was to determine whether Anderson used his county-issued cellphone or computer to discuss the appearance with Carona, Galisky or anyone else in the department.
Hunt said he would let lawyers handling his retaliation lawsuit determine whether the admonishment of Anderson could help his case.
John M.W. Moorlach, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, said he hoped Anderson would learn from his mistake. He would not say whether he thought it would affect Anderson’s candidacy.
“I think there’s room for a little grace on your first infraction,” Moorlach said.