Some of you may have had some sympathy for Orange County (Calif.) Sheriff Michael S. Carona who was hauled into federal court last week, literally in chains. Well, handcuffs anyway.
It's got to be hard to see a high-ranking law enforcement official humiliated in this manner. But save your sympathy. If the charges against Carona are true-if he is convicted-then he deserves to spend a lot of time in chains.
Ask yourself this: Other than murdering another cop, what is the worst thing a law enforcement officer can do? Would stealing from a fellow cop's widow be on your list?
The indictment handed down against Carona charges that he did something very akin to that unpardonable sin.
Back in 2001 veteran deputy Brad Warner checked into a hospital for the third surgery on a knee that was damaged by a resisting suspect. The surgery was on a Friday. By that Monday, Warner, 46, was dead.
According to reports, Carona started trying to persuade Warner's widow, Rosita, to file a malpractice case against the hospital. He even helpfully suggested the attorney that Rosita should contact, Joseph Cavallo.
The federal indictment indicates why Carona recommended Cavallo. Carona and his two assistant sheriffs, Donald Haidl and George Jaramillo, reportedly received 25 percent of any settlement coming to Cavallo from cases they referred to Cavallo. In other words, Carona and his cronies are charged with getting a kickback for sending a fellow deputy's wife to an attorney who some legal experts say had no business taking the case.
Carona says he's innocent. But some of his alleged co-conspirators have pleaded guilty and are rolling on him.
A 20-year veteran of the OC Sheriff's Department told the Los Angeles Times, "I can't imagine making money off of a dead cop. That's the lowest."
Here's how low. Rosita "Rosie" Warner was from the Philippines. She didn't really have a good grasp of the American civil legal system. She trusted the sheriff, and she trusted her attorney, and some of her husband's fellow deputies think she got screwed.
One deputy told the Times that Rosie seemed bewildered by Cavallo's approach to the case. "She asked me, 'Why is Cavallo pushing me to try to settle this thing? I think it's worth more.'"
Cavallo settled the case for $340,000. Legal experts say it was worth a lot more.
One told the Times that a malpractice suit like the one filed on behalf of Warner required much more legal firepower than Cavallo could bring to bear.
"Typically a malpractice case of any magnitude gets kicked up the ladder to a firm that specializes in medical malpractice," said Stephen Bundy, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley's Boalt Hall School of Law.
Bundy also expressed an opinion on Cavallo's business practices. "If he were a heavyweight lawyer, he wouldn't have to scramble for business this way."
Another veteran deputy told the Times that Warner's friends were shocked by the minimal settlement that Rosie received. "It was such a good case," he said. "Nobody knew the back story. Now this makes sense."
Here's some more of the back story. Rosie Warner died in 2005 from cancer.
Final piece of the puzzle. You may wonder why none of the deputies quoted in this story were named. The reason is simple: They fear retribution.
You see, even though he has been indicted in federal court on 10 counts of corruption, Carona is still on the job.
I believe firmly in a man being innocent until proven guilty. But it borders on absurd to let the most powerful law enforcement officer in Orange County, Calif., continue to hold that office while he is under indictment. Carona should have the common decency to step down. Or he should be suspended, pending trial.
And if Carona is found guilty of rooking a fellow cop's widow out of money that was rightly hers, then he should be shunned by every American officer.