News Details

O.C. Board Stiffens Assistant Sheriff Rules

By David Reyes
Los Angeles Times

November 21, 2007

In a slap at indicted Sheriff Michael S. Carona, Orange County supervisors Tuesday eliminated a waiver granted in 1998 that allowed him to promote two outsiders to be assistant sheriffs.

"We're reinstating some good personnel practices," said Supervisor Bill Campbell of the unanimous vote.

As sheriff-elect, Carona sought the waiver to relax the department's requirements so he could appoint George Jaramillo, a retired police lieutenant and Carona's campaign manager, and Donald Haidl, an Orange County businessman, as assistant sheriffs.

Neither man met the job qualification that required him to have served as a department captain for at least two years.

Supervisor John Moorlach, who made the motion to reinstate the stiffer requirements, said it became apparent to the board that had the waiver never been approved, "maybe our current problems might have been avoided."

"When it's easier to become an assistant sheriff than it is a captain, there's a problem," Moorlach said.

Carona is accused of misusing his office to enrich himself and others, including his wife and a longtime mistress. They were charged in a 10-count federal indictment unsealed last month.

When Carona first won election in 1998, he told the then-supervisors -- none of whom is still in office -- that he needed more autonomy to select his top command staff.

At that point, the board had no reason to distrust the sheriff or his motivation, former supervisors said in interviews.

"Our philosophy at the time was that Carona was an elected official," former Supervisor Chuck Smith said. "And he had a right to run his department as he saw fit."

Former Supervisor and current Assemblyman Todd Spitzer (R-Orange), who also voted for the waiver, said that in 1998 the political environment was different after Carona defeated Santa Ana Police Chief Paul Walters for the position.

It wasn't so much an election as "a coronation" for Carona, Spitzer recalled.

"Who would have ever thought that the Board of Supervisors needed to protect him from his demons?" Spitzer said.

Carona has taken a 60-day paid leave of absence and assigned Undersheriff Jo Ann Galisky to run the department.

The board has asked county counsel to research whether Carona should receive his salary while on leave and whether he had the authority to chose an interim replacement, board Chairman Chris Norby said.

Jaramillo has pleaded guilty to charges similar to the ones Carona faces. Jaramillo admitted that he collected cash and gifts worth about $45,000 and filed false income tax returns concealing the income.

As part of the plea agreement, he is cooperating with prosecutors in the continuing investigation of Carona.

Haidl has pleaded guilty to a tax offense. He has also agreed to cooperate with prosecutors against Carona.

Contact the writer: david.reyes@latimes.com