Observing a history of entrenched local political corruption, the 2012-13 Orange County grand jury made a sobering observation about our locale with a population larger than 21 U.S. states: “OC lacks effective ethics oversight of its public officials.” That grand jury, arguably one of the more decent ones, warned of the need to expose hidden relationships with conflicts of interest in government. So, it’s striking that just four years later, the 2016-17 incarnation of that same citizens’ panel abandoned its mission as public watchdog and operated corruptly under the guidance of Carrie Carmody. The longtime T.J. Maxx and Bed Bath & Beyond sales clerk has direct, personal ties to the powerful local establishment she remarkably was entrusted to police for a year, OC Weekly has learned.
At the time of Carmody’s surprise June 2016 selection to lead the grand jury, Orange County’s major law-enforcement agencies, Tony Rackauckas’ district attorney’s office and Sandra Hutchens’ sheriff’s department, were in dire need of help discrediting what had become known nationally as the county’s then two-and-a-half-year-old jailhouse informant scandal. Prosecution teams here secretly operated unconstitutional scams with jail snitches to win convictions, hid exculpatory evidence from defendants and juries, and, when necessary, committed perjury in hopes of masking the cheating. Legal scholars, lawyers, judges, journalists and even legendary former homicide prosecutors across the country protested the underhanded tactics.
These developments put Rackauckas and Hutchens angrily on the defensive. Though not pals, the two opted to team up for ever-shifting, truth-trampling public-relations efforts designed to suppress community alarm. But the embarrassments continued. In March 2015, the DA and his entire staff found themselves booted over ethical lapses in a death-penalty trial, a historic step in our state’s legal annals. Superior court judges expressed dismay that the sheriff, who campaigned as a sincere reform advocate following the federal imprisonment of her predecessor for corruption, repeatedly ignored lawfully issued court orders to surrender records. Law-enforcement officials’ refusal to act ethically put in motion the process of wrecking at least 17 of their once allegedly perfect murder, attempted-murder and felony assault cases.
By the end of 2016, reporter-dodging Hutchens and Rackauckas faced calls for resignation and greater meaningful oversight of their agencies, producers from CBS’s 60 Minutes arrived to join federal and state investigators in snooping, most local journalists refused police PR-unit enticements to divert attention to other stories, and the California Court of Appeal blasted attempts to deceive the public into believing the informant scandal was imaginary. Unamused veteran state appellate justices Kathleen O’Leary, Raymond Ikola and Richard Fybel labeled the government’s cheating “well beyond simply distasteful or improper,” as well as a “real” and “grave” threat to the criminal-justice system. “The magnitude of the systemic problems cannot be overlooked,” the justices stated in a stern, 53-page ruling.
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In this setting, Carmody quietly entered the courthouse scene, won Hutchens’ background approval for the move and somehow gained control of the grand jury at the pivotal moment. Her largest career accomplishment had been a mind-numbingly inane 2008 UC Irvine graduate study she co-authored about Facebook activity that helped earn her a doctoral degree in psychology and a part-time teaching job in Pomona.
Nonetheless, Kirk Nakamura, the presiding judge of the Orange County Superior Court, sugarcoated her ascension in a June 20, 2016, press release: “Dr. Carmody has extensive experience motivating individuals to work together toward a common goal, which is an asset as she prepares to join the 19-member grand jury on July 1 as its leader.”
Carmody didn’t hesitate to make a suspicious move behind the scenes. This daughter of career cop Barry Franklin Carmody diverted the panel from legitimately exploring law enforcement’s documented corruption. Instead, she aimed from the outset to discredit those who exposed the informant scandal, including Superior Court Judge Thomas M. Goethals, Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders, the state appellate court and the press corps. At a June 13 press conference, ironically held inside the Santa Ana Police Department—where some of the most egregious tainted informant work originated—56-year-old Carmody set aside reality to call the scandal a “witch-hunt” and a “myth” without an iota of proof.
“The grand jury found no evidence to support claims of a systemic, widespread informant program, and reports of such have been exaggerated in the press,” her prepared written statement declared. “Allegations of intentional motivation by a corrupt district attorney’s office and a conspiracy with a corrupt sheriff’s department to violate citizen’s [sic] constitutional rights are unfounded. Disparate facts have been woven together, and a combination of conjecture and random events have been juxtaposed to create a tenuous narrative insinuating nefarious intent. That narrative does not stand up to factual validation.”
A Rackauckas and Hutchens campaign ally couldn’t have produced a more shameless whitewash. The taxpayer-funded public-relations machine for both politicians immediately pounced in relief. A sheriff’s spokesman described the report as “welcomed.” About a year earlier, on June 9, the DA’s office conceded it possessed a massive cache of long-hidden evidence that “impeaches” the denials of unethical informant use by Hutchens’ deputies. But who was to argue with the grand jury’s gift? Susan Kang Schroeder, Rackauckas’ chief flack, immediately issued a self-congratulatory press release titled “Orange County Grand Jury Debunks Phony News of Prosecutorial Corruption.”
We wanted to know how elated Pat Bates felt about Carmody’s work, but she didn’t respond to our messages. A Laguna Niguel resident, Bates is the Republican Leader in the California State Senate. She provided the swing vote that made Hutchens sheriff as a 2008 member of the Board of Supervisors. Two weeks after the grand jury report, she told a reporter the sheriff has “served Orange County with distinction.” In league with the DA, Bates voted in Sacramento against 2016 legislative reforms combating prosecutorial misconduct. The top two endorsement names listed on her campaign fundraising pitches are Rackauckas and Hutchens.
When the senator was born on Dec. 15, 1939, in Los Angeles County, her parents christened her Patricia Ann Carmody. (Her last name would change when she married architect John Bates.) In 1943, Patricia’s mother, Rita Hammond, gave birth to her brother, the aforementioned cop named Barry Franklin Carmody. According to government records obtained by the Weekly, Barry married Carolyn Mae Bates in November 1960, and seven months later, Carrie Carmody, future grand jury foreperson, was born. Senator Bates, the embattled DA and sheriff’s most loyal and vocal supporter, is Carmody’s aunt.
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; and been hailed by two New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing entrenched Southern California law enforcement corruption.