Orange County District Attorney and Political Corruption Cases

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Bill Feccia, the senior assistant district attorney in charge of the probe into County Assessor Webster Guillory’s office, had some interesting things to say when we talked Friday about the ins and outs of public corruption cases.

The general sense regarding Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas has been that he doesn’t aggressively pursue political corruption cases. Feccia said the assessor probe shows that the office does indeed take those cases seriously.

After an inquiry of several weeks into employee allegations of criminal actions by Guillory, Rackauckas’ office on Friday issued a report that cleared the assessor and criticized Orange County Employees Association General Manager Nick Berardino for publicly disclosing employee concerns about Guillory’s conduct.

“We could have stopped the inquiry earlier than we did,” Feccia said. “We pushed it beyond the limits of our own jurisdiction to make sure we had all of the relevant evidence.”

Jurisdiction is something that Feccia is very focused on. And it’s the reason he thinks there’s a misperception that this district attorney avoids going into political waters. Feccia said courts, not the DA, have more to do with the lack of official investigations in the last decade.

“I think a lot of it is a misunderstanding of what happened in the late 1990s (with a court decision in a corruption case involving a former county supervisor),” Feccia said. “It wasn’t so much a change of DA. But a strong court decision that came down and said the constitution of the state and concept of separation of powers limits the DA severely.”

He added: “You’re not a super, supervisor — you’re not there to be a performance auditor.”

So Feccia acknowledges that the DA does not wade too deep into political waters. But he’s saying it’s because the courts have held the office back, not for any other reason. So by that reckoning, district attorneys throughout California stay away from political investigations. … That is something I’ll be checking out.

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