You can credit indicted ex-Sheriff Mike Carona (pictured in his old chick magnet outfit) for turning federal Judge Andrew Guilford’s stately 10th-floor Santa Ana courtroom into a bloody, limb-strewn morgue for the once-touted character of “America’s Sheriff.”
So what do Frank Mickadeit and Jeffrey Rawitz find so amusing? They wink, smile and nod at each other so often a stranger might believe he’d witnessed the blossoming of a torrid affair. Their communications are the kind of sneaky glances you’d see between sixth-grade classmates anticipating after-school mischief.
Mickadeit, the Orange County Register columnist, sits near me on a wooden bench in the back with a cluster of other media. Rawitz, a defense lawyer, parks himself at a table next to our indicted ex-top cop—30 feet away from Mickadeit, but close enough to shoot animated facial expressions at each other.
We found out what was so amusing on Friday, when Mickadeit published “Haidl Gets the Grilling Greg Didn’t.” The column portrayed Rawitz as Perry Mason, Don Haidl as a truth-dodging drone for prosecutor Brett Sagel, and Carona . . . well, Mickadeit’s always had a soft spot for him. (Evidence: At a time in 2005 when the sheriff was strenuously dodging other reporters, he invited Mickadeit to announce his re-election plans to the public.) I’m guessing any criminal defendant–but especially Carona–would greatly appreciate a journalist waiting 20 paragraphs to mention him in a story about his case, and then only in passing. Mickadeit’s readers might believe that Haidl is on trial.
Here’s how Mickadeit summed up what happened in court late on Thursday afternoon when the defense got its first shot at Haidl.
“Rawitz has rattled Haidl,” he wrote. “If this were a boxing match, it would be the second round, and Haidl has been knocked down once.”
I was so shocked by the assertion that I read it several times to see if I’d missed a joke. Nope. Other court observers shared my bewilderment. One even said, “What courtroom was Frank sitting in yesterday?”
Let’s set the record straight: Rawitz is a sharp, hard-charging attorney, but his first round of questions—which included embarrassing technical glitches and lengthy, boring stretches of Haidl reading documents—largely focused on tangential issues.
Did the defense lawyer upset Haidl by accusing him of harassing the victim in his son’s six-year-old gang-rape case? Absolutely. Did he get Haidl to admit he’s a rich dude with an income of $300,000-per-month when he was appointed assistant sheriff in 1999? Yep. Did he get Haidl to admit he’d acted while surreptitiously taping Carona for the FBI? Duh. Did he get Haidl to admit that he has a huge interest (a possible reduced sentence for a pending income-tax-evasion conviction) in cooperating with Sagel? Sure.
I don’t know what question/answer Mickadeit thinks “knocked down” Haidl, because nothing has yet come close to knocking the ex-assistant sheriff off his eyewitness and audio-supplemented testimony about Carona’s greed, corruption and efforts to thwart a federal grand jury's probe.
Indeed, the most interesting aspects to questions by both Rawitz and his Jones Day colleague, Brian A. Sun, have been loaded questions—questions that deliver false or unproven facts to juror ears. For example, Rawitz prefaced one inquiry by claiming that Haidl had promised to spend $1 million to defeat District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, who chose to prosecute Haidl’s 17-year-old son as an adult rather than send the case to juvenile court.
“That’s absolutely false, sir,” Haidl replied. “That never happened.”
Rawitz wants jurors to believe Haidl is an unrepentant liar, an assertion Mickadeit supplemented in his Monday column. For the sake of argument, let’s say he is. How does that exonerate Carona, the man who took Haidl’s money and expensive gifts and friendship—who even made the used-car salesman an assistant sheriff with full police powers?
But there’s good news for Calamity Mike, a politician who soiled almost everything he touched at the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. In the Court of Frank Mickadeit, the government could produce two, four, six or eight more folks from your slimy inner circle to testify against you, and it won’t matter. You’ll always be the innocent guy whose only mistake was unknowingly surrounding yourself with hoodlums. Hey, that’s Rawitz’s line. Wink, wink.
(R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly)
CNN-featured investigative reporter R. Scott Moxley has won Journalist of the Year honors at the Los Angeles Press Club; been named Distinguished Journalist of the Year by the LA Society of Professional Journalists; earned six dozen other reporting awards; obtained one of the last exclusive prison interviews with Charles Manson disciple Susan Atkins; featured in Jeffrey Toobin’s The Best American Crime Reporting; and hailed by two New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing entrenched Southern California law enforcement corruption.