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article image$1.20 Ketchup to Cost City Thousands in Court Costs

By Sandy Sand     Apr 15, 2009 in Crime
"Quirky" hardly begins to describe some goings on Southern California by its voters, politicians and courts, but the trial of a former school trustee for the alleged theft of a half-filled bottle of ketchup could go top the list of quirky.
Described as the “ultimate dark-horse politician,” who escaped a recall, but ultimately wasn’t re-elected to the Orange School District board of trustees, Steve Rocco, 58, went on trial yesterday for allegedly stealing a 14-ounce, half-empty plastic bottle of Heinz ketchup from an out-of-door dining area at Chapman University in the City of Orange in Orange County, California.
Rocco, an unemployed recluse of few words (except when he rants about the conspiracy of a shadowy cabal he refers to as the Partnership) showed up in court being quite vocal, maintaining his innocence, and declaring the whole thing as silly as the bottle of ketchup has no value.
According to Prosecutors:
…the bottle had a value of $1.20 -- well below the $15 each juror is being paid a day. The trial, expected to last four days, will cost thousands.
Jurors were asked to “focus on the conduct of the defendant rather than the value of the item” by Deputy District Attorney Lynda Fernandez.
In response, public defender Erica Gambale shuffled a dime and two quarters in her hand, and said:
"This is it, ladies and gentlemen, this is it. Sixty cents," explaining that "at best, half that ketchup was left."
In an effort to settle the case before it came to trial, prosecutors tried and failed to convince Rocco to stay away from Chapman University.
Rather than comply with the off-limits offer, Rocco composed 50 type-written subpoenas for more than 50 witnesses, including former Sheriff Michael S. Carona, voter registrar Neal Kelley, several newspaper reporters and an unspecified Heinz representative, all of which were tossed out by Judge Jacki C. Brown.
D. A. spokeswoman Susan Kang Schroeder, said:
…their intent has never been to create a courtroom circus, only to follow the letter of the law. "We shouldn't give him a break because he's weird."
Rocco’s alleged crime is a misdemeanor, and if found guilty he could serve a maximum six months in jail, and prosecutors said they will seek a probation order that he stay away from Chapman.
Fred Smoller, a political science professor, who made a documentary about Rocco’s antics and unlikely forays into politics, said:
"He (Rocco) latches on to political systems, by getting into politics and now the judiciary. He's sort of like one of the Marx Brothers. And now he's getting the attention he so craves."
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