Spotlight Remains on Public Administrator/Guardian

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Thursday, September 9, 2010 | The heat continues to be turned up on Public Administrator/Guardian John Williams in the wake of his involvement in the controversial firing of Senior Deputy District Attorney Todd Spitzer.

As Voice of OC reported Tuesday, the California Coalition of Law Enforcement Associations sent a letter to Attorney General Jerry Brown calling for an investigation the into Williams’ role in the firing and his handling of an elder abuse case that Spitzer had inquired about.

The letter also linked the current imbroglio to grand jury investigations last year that were critical of how Williams handled his budgets.

Williams responded late Wednesday with a letter to Brown’s office that provided more details regarding Spitzer’s behavior and stated that the law enforcement group is misleading the public by trying to provide a “nexus” between his handling of an elder abuse case and the grand jury investigations.

“I don’t see any correlation between our current elder abuse investigation and this department’s human resources/personnel and budget practices other than like most public entities in California, including the Attorney General’s Office I’m sure, we are understaffed and underfunded,” Williams wrote.

Today the law enforcement group will ratchet things up even more with a news conference featuring Ruth Hull-Richter, whose case triggered Spitzer’s firing. She is expected to accuse Williams’ office of pressuring victims, like her 92-year-old mother, to give up control over their personal assets.

Meanwhile, highly placed sources in Orange County government are saying that this latest controversy might provide the final impetus to eliminate Williams’ elective status altogether.

Last December, Orange County Chief Executive Tom Mauk attempted to return Williams’ office to the county bureaucracy, warning county supervisors that Williams’ agency “is facing significant budget challenges, as the revenue streams are projected to be lower than expected because of economic conditions (i.e. interest and estate fees), and the proposed elimination of Targeted Case Management revenue.”

Mauk also publicly reminded county supervisors that Williams’ management flubs — violations of county hiring practices and salary hikes — made his agency “the subject of an unprecedented two grand jury reports this year.”

After the grand jury reports, Williams lobbied county supervisors, who later voted on a tight, 3-2 margin to keep his post unchanged. As with former Sheriff Mike Carona and County Treasurer/Tax Collector Chriss Street, county supervisors opted to largely stay away from interfering with other countywide elected leaders.

There was talk of again looking at Williams’ issues during the fiscal year 2010-11 budget deliberations, yet no such discussion occurred. The office then largely faded back into the background of county government operations after Williams easily won reelection in June.

Then came the Spitzer firing.

Spitzer, a former California assemblyman and county supervisor, was hired at the District Attorney’s Office in 2008 after striking a deal with incumbent Tony Rackauckas, who agreed to tap Spitzer as the next district attorney when his current term ends in 2014.

That deal saved Rackauckas and countywide Republican leaders from a nasty intra-family fistfight campaign this year; instead, Rackauckas easily won in the June primary.

The truce apparently fell apart last week, when Spitzer was shown the door after looking into allegations of elder abuse at Williams’ office.

Many have speculated that Rackauckas Chief of Staff Susan Kang Schroeder conspired to have Spitzer fired because she wants to run for district attorney in 2014 or sooner.

Kang Schroeder disputes any interest in the job, and Rackauckas issued a quick statement following the Spitzer firing that he would run again in 2014.

In his letter Wednesday, Williams expanded on allegations against Spitzer, revealing more layers to the already clouded case.

Williams accused Spitzer of lying to a public administrator supervising deputy by saying, “the OCDA’s office was conducting a bad check investigation on the subject of our investigation which was later deemed a complete fabrication by the OCDA’s office.”

Spitzer pounced on Williams’ comments about the bad check investigation Wednesday, producing a voicemail he said was left on his office phone before he left his post. The message is from the district attorney’s bad check program staff confirming that he had indeed asked questions about an ongoing probe.

It’s unclear why District Attorney’s Office officials, or who, told Williams there was no bad check investigation into Hull-Richter.

What is clear is that sources close to the fifth floor of the county administration building say that county supervisors are getting nervous: Williams may be in for a rocky road.

Please contact Norberto Santana, Jr., directly at And add your voice with a letter to the editor.


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