Carona’s former mistress Debra Hoffman wants relationship kept from the jury

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Former Orange County Sheriff Michael S. Carona’s onetime mistress Friday asked the federal judge presiding over their upcoming trial on corruption and conspiracy charges to exclude the nature of their relationship from the case when it goes to a jury trial this year.

A defense lawyer for Debra Victoria Hoffman, who was charged along with Carona and his wife in a wide-ranging indictment last fall, has asked that the description of Hoffman as Carona’s “longtime mistress” be struck from the indictment, which may be read to the jury at the start of the trial.

The defense called the description “unnecessary, gratuitous, inflammatory and prejudicial.”

The case has already produced sensitive allegations of extracurricular relationships involving the former sheriff, who resigned earlier this year to fight the charges against him.

Last month, Hoffman’s lawyer, Deputy Federal Public Defender Sylvia Torres-Guillen, raised a claim in open court -- which other defense and prosecution lawyers say is false -- that Carona had a romantic relationship with a former top-ranking federal prosecutor in the region.

Partially as a result of the rumor, all but two of the federal prosecutors in the region were recused from handling the case to avoid a perceived conflict of interest.

U.S. District Judge Andrew J. Guilford did not rule on Hoffman’s request during a lengthy hearing Friday of several pre-trial motions filed by the defense, but seemed to indicate at least some support for the idea. “We should all be cautious with those kinds of allegations,” he said.

Prosecutors opposed the request, saying the reference was integral to backing allegations that Carona sold access to his office for personal gain.

“The jury is not going to understand the case unless they understand the relationship,” Assistant U.S. Atty. Kenneth Julian said. “This is not irrelevant. It’s going to be part of the case, part of the proof.”

Hoffman is charged with conspiracy, mail fraud and bankruptcy fraud. Prosecutors allege that she received more than $170,000 from Carona supporters at his request, and that she concealed the payments and other holdings on economic disclosure forms required because of her appointment to a state commission and when she filed for bankruptcy in 2001.

Defense lawyers also asked the judge to tell the jury that some evidence was improperly obtained because it was produced with the help of a cooperating government witness who secretly recorded conversations with Carona when the former sheriff was already represented by defense lawyers.

The defense previously lost a bid to have the evidence thrown out, but the California State Bar and the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility are investigating the matter. The judge did not rule on the request Friday.