(Sheriff) Jack in the Box

If ever a man looked like a sheriff, it’s Jack Anderson. The mustachioed man is tall and husky and, if he wore a cowboy hat, would cast an impressive shadow sitting on a horse.

Of course, the wild—ridiculously wild—west days at the Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD) should be over. Ex-Sheriff Mike Carona and his evil sidekicks Jo Ann Galisky and Steven Bishop have found their rightful places in society. Carona teeters on the brink of prison if convicted later this year in a bribery/obstruction of justice scheme. Fired or forced out of their assistant sheriff jobs, Galisky and Bishop nowadays can soil only their plain clothes.

Sitting atop the OCSD is acting Sheriff Jack Anderson, a 47-year-old Illinois native who begs reporters not to tie him to . . . (in a Monday interview, he made a dismissive sweeping motion with his right hand, and then said) . . . “the previous sheriff and all of his problems.”

Anderson doesn’t have to be particularly wise to appreciate that Carona and his former inner circle at the department are politically radioactive. And yet—like Galisky, Bishop and ex-assistant sheriffs turned felons George Jaramillo and Don Haidl—Anderson can’t deny the truth: Carona put the stars on his uniform and welcomed him into an arrogant OCSD inner sanctum that prized deceit above all else.

But Jack doesn’t want to be in the Carona box. “I’m not part of all that,” he told me. “That’s the past. It’s unfair to tie me to it. I think I can take this department back to what it should be—a place where people are proud to work and the public can trust.”

What influence does Carona have today? I asked.

“None,” said Anderson. “That’s the way it should be. He is history.”

As evidence, he pointed to a wall near the sheriff’s inner office that once held photographs of a smiling Carona embracing Hollywood celebrities and fellow politicians. “It was all about him, you know?” said Anderson.

He replaced the photographs with a motto etched into the wall: “The men and women of the sheriff’s department are its heart and the institution is greater than any individual.”

Is Anderson merely telling outsiders what he thinks they want to hear? Skeptics say yes. They insist that the department needs a thorough break from Carona and his assistants. And they are none too keen on what they see as behind-the-scenes ties between Anderson and Carona adviser Mike Schroeder.

“Jack is a nice guy, but he’s not the independent leader we need,” said Bill Hunt, the high-ranking deputy whom a pre-indicted Carona fired because he’d challenged him in the 2006 elections. “Jack’s baggage is Carona and Schroeder. They wrecked the department. We’ve got to get beyond these people.”

Hunt, who scored the recent endorsement of the deputies’ union, is one of nearly two dozen applicants hoping to be selected June 3 by the county’s Board of Supervisors. The prize? Head California’s second largest sheriff’s department. Other local candidates include Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Commander Ralph Martin, Santa Ana Police Chief Paul Walters and Craig Hunter, deputy chief of police in Anaheim.

From Schroeder's perspective, one candidate has zero chance of winning.

"Hunt claims that he is the corruption fighter but ignores the two 800-pound elephants in the room," Schroeder told the Weekly. "The first elephant is that the Attorney General determined that Hunt engaged in a cover-up relating to Don Haidl and George Jaramillo, including the altering of official reports. Mr. Hunt also claims that Anderson is tainted because he was promoted by Carona. This brings us to the second elephant in the room: Hunt was also promoted to all of his management positions by the former sheriff. Hunt may think he is a strong candidate, but with these elephants on his back, no one outside his inner circle seriously regards him as such."

Based on numerous interviews, it appears that Hunt's support is largely from the public. No surprise there. Hunt is the man who finished second against Carona in the last election. But views among members of the Board of Supervisors apparently differ. Depending on who you talk to, the top three local candidates appear to be Walters, Anderson and Martin.

A move by Supervisor Janet Nguyen to conduct a national interview process has had the effect of giving Anderson--once a dark horse, at best--a chance. He's effectively the incumbent now. On a daily basis, he's able to enhance his public image by speaking at crime scenes and issuing reforms. Perhaps more important, he’s got a powerful fan.

“When I got here as a supervisor, I was amazed at how oppositional Mike Carona was as sheriff,” said John Moorlach, chairman of the board of supervisors. “Jack’s embraced initiatives. He’s doing the right things for the department. Right now, I’d give him an A plus.”

(Moorlach also complimented other known candidates, calling them each “viable, fine men.”)

But Moorlach has just one vote. It’s going to take at least a three-vote majority of the board to pick who will serve as interim sheriff until the 2010 elections. That reality could help Walters compete, insiders tell the Weekly. Santa Ana’s top cop recently hired as consultants savvy Republican political veterans John Lewis and Matt Holder, the duo who used to work for Carona. The move might prove brilliant. Lewis has two clients on the board: supervisors Chris Norby and Bill Campbell.

“Sure, other people are angling for the job,” said Adam Probolsky, a onetime Carona campaign volunteer who now advises Anderson and Supervisor Nguyen. “But Jack isn’t focused on the politics. He’s focused on accomplishing things. He’s a grounded guy, honest. We’re done with the arrogant we’re-better-than-you attitude at the sheriff’s department.”

We well know that the lure of taking control of the OCSD—and its $800 million annual budget, spy equipment and 4,000 employees—is intoxicating. Weak individuals can't handle the power. History proves this.

Anderson wants me to know that he’s not going to follow Carona’s path. He walked me into the sheriff’s window-loaded office that faces Orange County’s central courthouse and a high school football stadium. It’s vacant, except for sparse furniture and a single large plant.

From January 1999 until the beginning of this year, this spot had been ground zero for an egomaniacal money-power-sex-hungry villain who hasn't shown a hint of shame for disgracing his department, much less his family and community.

We silently looked around. "I haven’t moved in here," Anderson eventually said. "I could, but I’d rather wait and see who the supervisors pick to serve as our next sheriff. I think it’s time for dignity, honor and respect to be restored to this office."

Is this guy for real?

-- R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly

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