An Orange County Superior Court judge Monday refused to grant Orange County Public Administrator John Williams the temporary restraining order he was seeking to force county officials to let him back into his office.
Judge William Monroe set March 13 for a hearing on whether the county Board of Supervisors had the right to bar Williams, an elected official, from performing his duties.
Attorneys for the county argued that Williams gave up his job in a letter of resignation he sent to then-board Chairman Bill Campbell in March. The letter said he would resign on Jan. 23, 2012. On that day, county officials changed the locks on his office doors.
Williams’ lawyer, Phil Greer, argued that the beleaguered official has changed his mind since sending his resignation letter, something he has a legal right to do.
The judge “didn’t say we were wrong on the facts,” Greer told reporters after Monday’s hearing.
Williams would not comment on the judge’s ruling but told a reporter that he did not feel he was pressured to sign the resignation letter.
The county’s filings argued that Williams’ action is “essentially a thinly veiled attempt to remain on county payroll — and boost his pension entitlement — even though he had been previously stripped of virtually all of his official duties.”
Williams has been a controversial figure in county government since 2009, when two grand jury reports criticized his management of the offices of public administrator and public guardian, which oversee the complex estates of people who die without heirs and those of indigent people.
The spotlight on Williams became intense in late 2010 when high-ranking Assistant District Attorney Todd Spitzer was fired by Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas after investigating allegations that Williams was mishandling a case involving a domestic violence victim. Since then, Spitzer has called for Williams to resign.
Spitzer was in court Monday and asked the judge whether he could participate in the case on behalf of the county. The judge turned him down, saying, “when all is said and done, I don’t think Mr. Spitzer’s participation would add anything to [the case].”
Spitzer, a candidate for Campbell’s open seat on the Board of Supervisors, said after the hearing that he wanted the court to understand how important it was that Williams fully intended to resign when he sent the letter last year.
The ugliness that has characterized this political battle since it began was on display in the courtroom.
In his written request to join the case, Spitzer referred to Williams as a “phony” and used other derogatory terms to describe Williams. The judge cited those and other comments by both Greer and the county counsel’s office as “pejorative terms” that, he said, “keeps the court from focusing on substantive issues.”
In its filings, the county included details of a three-point agreement between Williams and the county that governed his resignation. The three points are:
- The board would allow Williams to remain as public administrator for a one-year period after the beginning of his term of office, which commenced in January 2011, at his full salary for both public administrator and public guardian, even though the board had the power to reduce his salary when it removed him as public guardian.
- The board would not publicly release a highly critical report of Williams’ performance prepared for the board by special counsel Michael Colantuono.
- The board would discuss with the county CEO the option within his authority to retain Williams as a consultant to the county for transition purposes.
Greer argued that because Williams was an elected official, the county couldn’t legally reduce his salary, and that accusations in the Colantuono report were ultimately found to be untrue.