Having written fundraiser remarks for disgraced LA County Sheriff Lee Baca, and having been big-bro bear-hugged by him after confessing to teleprompter typos, it’s hard to hate the man who ran a law enforcement mafia.
He hugged me because he was relieved to be offstage. Fifty-cent words weren’t easy for Baca, I’d been warned, and this was a big night. Just before he’d taken the podium, I realized I’d failed to yank one word in particular, and sure enough he flubbed it. Regardless of how I felt about his Men’s Central Jail deputies — or anything else related to that American flag-wrapped night at the Beverly Hilton — I was the show writer. I had to tell him it was my mistake, not his.
How I’d been hired for that round of gigs, not to mention the events leading up to that evening, is something I look back on fondly. Penning rousing rah-rah for an audience of senators, sycophants, celebrities, schemers, military brass, soon-to-be-indicted badges and business types, a Chief Justice, a District Attorney, and one tantrum-throwing Donald Sterling made me feel like a little lamb among big-ticket wolves. That is, a lamb who had been convicted of, and imprisoned for, multiple armed robberies.
At one point in the Green room were Red Buttons, Robert Stack, Norm Crosby, Diane Ladd, Shaq and Sean Young – all at the same time. My head was spinning at the Fear and Loathing of it all. I mean, I’m still wondering whether the elements of my own criminal spirit were glaring to those corrupt cops and con men or if God had personally lined up that psychic paycheck on my behalf. And it wasn’t just a single event: I got asked to return and write the next one and the one after that as well.
A decade later, even Leroy Baca’s legacy began to unravel. His star may be last to fall among a good number of sharks and cheaters in attendance that evening, though it wouldn’t surprise me if that cursed night had one or two more careers to destroy.
These days, Los Angeles County deputies and their unscrupulous infrastructure are much better known for their intra-departmental gangs, excessive force, inhumane custody conditions, heroin burritos, and lawsuit payouts than they’ll ever be for the “honesty, character, and compassion” required of them today by new Sheriff Jim McDonnell. Now we know just how deep — and high up — that rot went.
But what about Baca himself? With Lionel Richie on stage singing his signature hit, “All Night Long,” I witnessed the Sheriff leading a conga line of wealthy, right-leaning LA power-players across the ballroom where the Golden Globes are held. It was, frankly, adorable. Now he’s a civilian, a defendant, a convicted felon. Will he, too, jump on the criminal justice and prison reform bandwagons? Will he soon be making money hand over fist promoting second chances for those who have made mistakes? Is he my competition now?
He wouldn’t be alone.
Former New York Police Commissioner and one-time front runner for Homeland Security Chief Bernie Kerik was among those I’d written for that night as well. Even then, you could smell the opportunistic hubris of the weasel variety off that guy. And what do you know? He’s now a prison reform consultant and self-proclaimed counterterrorism expert who, if you read your Google alerts, sticks his “humble” nose into anything he can. As a disgraced cop/inmate/Bush-Cheney stooge/author, Kerik has learned better than most how to milk his creepy talent for being all things to all people. After all, Lee Baca is highly susceptible to the same maneuvering. Case in point: the story of how I came to be hired to write these events for Donald Sterling and others offers insight into the short-con environment in which the then-Sheriff thrived.
I have to say, though, having spent a smidgen of time with Baca, the two are not cut from the same cloth. Here’s hoping Bernie doesn’t come around again to inflict his slimy influence on the post-scandal Sheriff. ‘Cause I think Baca has a better chance of living out the rest of his years without the excuses.
Admitting my soft spot for the man feels odd, but I do have one. And it’s okay to humanize wrongdoers.
Hopefully he’ll take it. Clearly not everyone who is arrested, charged, or sentenced comes to terms with their justifications and rationalizations. Yet I have a feeling Baca’s going to do right by his own character. And I’m looking forward to keeping tabs on his journey, even if he does start his own blog.
Tags: American flag, Apocalypse Hoosegow, Bernie Kerik, Beverly Hilton, celebrities, corruption, criminal justice, custody, Donald Sterling, excessive force, Golden Globes, heroin burrito, Homeland Security, Jim McDonnell, law enforcement, Lee Baca, Lionel Richie, Los Angeles County Sheriff, mafia, Men's Central Jail, Prison reform, scandal