OC Officials Offer Up Another Reason for Keeping Letter Secret

Orange County officials are now arguing that the public should not see the details of a letter written by Deputy CEO Alisa Drakodaidis, which reportedly contains allegations of improper actions by several county supervisors and District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, because “the letter contains personnel information, the disclosure of which would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”

That’s the response in a July 17 letter to Voice of OC from County Counsel Nick Chrisos declining a public records request for a copy of the letter sent to the county by an attorney representing Drakodaidis last week. Chrisos did not respond to a call for comment.

Drakodaidis was the deputy CEO in charge of Orange County Public Works and supervised former executive Carlos Bustamante, who was arrested and charged this month with more than a dozen sex crimes against at least seven female employees of the department.

The fallout from Bustamante's arrest has shaken the entire upper echelon of county government, and members of the Orange County Board of Supervisors are on the verge of firing county CEO Tom Mauk.

Public Works Director Jess Carbajal was fired last week, and just as he was being dismissed, Draikodaidis reportedly put herself on leave. By week’s end her attorney had sent the letter, which sources describe as reading like a claim.

Terry Francke, who is general counsel to the open-records advocacy group Californians Aware and an open-records consultant for Voice of OC, said the county is violating the law.

“A letter from a suddenly departed (and not happily departed) employee's attorney to her former employer has to be in the nature of a legal demand of some kind: if not a tort claim then for these purposes analogous to a tort claim. It is therefore just as disclosable as a tort claim, and not subject to any of the asserted exemptions,” Francke said.

This latest defense of the letter's secrecy follows assertions by supervisors that Rackauckas himself had sealed the letter due to his ongoing investigation into the allegations against Bustamante.

Rackauckas’ office has declined to comment on the statements from county supervisors.

Regardless, Francke said, a DA can’t quash such a public document without a court hearing.

“Without a court order, a district attorney has no legal authority to prohibit anyone other than subordinates from releasing information on investigative grounds or any other. And a court order gagging county officials from releasing this kind of document would be next to impossible to obtain,” Francke said.

Supervisors, meanwhile, have shown no indication they will challenge the county’s present position of defying the Public Records Act. “I’ll leave it to the attorneys,” said Supervisor Bill Campbell. “It doesn’t make any difference to me whether it’s public or not.”

— NORBERTO SANTANA JR.

Comments are closed.