Should DA Chief of Staff Disclose Financial Interests?

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Susan Kang Schroeder, chief of staff to District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, is the only one of the DA’s five highest-ranking executives who isn’t required each year to reveal personal financial interests on public disclosure forms.

According to a range of government experts, Schroeder’s exemption from the 40-year-old requirement means one of two things: either she should be disclosing her financial interests, or her title and job description make her sound far more important than she is.

“If she’s (Schroeder) influencing decisions, it should be disclosed,” said Tracy Westen, an expert on California government ethical issues.

According to the official job description produced by the DA’s office in response to a Public Records Act request, Schroeder, a lawyer, reports directly to Rackauckas, giving “advice on high-profile, sensitive cases.” In addition, she is involved in myriad other duties, including providing “confidential staff support to the District Attorney on the most sensitive and complex matters.” She also is in charge of the DA’s news media team.

Download document: Susan Schroeder Job Description

“I can’t imagine a ‘chief of staff’ of the District Attorney not being a designated person” who is required to publicly disclose financial interests, said Shirley Grindle, author of Orange County’s local campaign finance ordinance in 1978 and a longtime critic of Rackauckas.

Rackauckas, who easily won re-election last year to a fifth, four-year term, and Schroeder, who was his most recent political campaign manager in addition to serving as his government chief of staff, declined to be interviewed about why she is exempt from filing the disclosure forms.

Disclosing Conflicts of Interest

California voters in 1974 approved a ballot proposition designed to regulate political campaign contributions and shed light on potential conflicts of interest by elected officials and government employees.

The Political Reform Act, which went into effect in 1975, created the California Fair Political Practices Commission or FPPC to enforce the law.

Among other things, the law requires thousands of government workers statewide to file annual conflict of interest statements. In Orange County, about 2,275 of the roughly 16,000 county workers file the forms each year.

“The intent was not to show how wealthy someone was but to show what potential conflicts they might have in making or participating in making decisions,” said Bob Stern, who helped write the Political Reform Act.

Those who have to file either make or participate in making “governmental decisions that could affect their personal economic interests,” according to the FPPC.

Known in government jargon as 700 Forms, the conflict statements show the public the sources of a public employee’s income as well as gifts, tickets, loans, investments, travel or other offerings that might influence the worker’s decisions.

For example, county Assessor’s office workers who make or participate in making decisions on assessments, are required to file.

But Rackauckas has determined that, in spite of her title as chief of staff, Schroeder’s job is exempt from filing the forms.

“It’s not the name of the position” that determines whether a government worker has to file a conflict of interest form, said Stern. “It’s what she does.”

Because Schroeder doesn’t file a conflict of interest form, it’s not known what personal economic interests she has or had since being given the chief of staff title in 2010. She has worked for Rackauckas since he first was elected in 1999.

Until last year, she was married to former California Republican Party chairman and behind-the-scenes GOP powerhouse Michael J. Schroeder, a multi-millionaire who helped create malpractice insurance companies for chiropractors and has been active in creating or running trade associations for chiropractors, massage parlor operators, acupuncture practitioners and podiatrists. Michael Schroeder also was Rackauckas’ 2014 election campaign chairman.

The DA’s office has prosecuted a number of chiropractors and massage therapists in the past 12 years, including cases where Susan Schroeder’s name is listed on news releases as the official contact.

According to the DA’s news media web page, “Chief of Staff Susan Kang Schroeder provides legal and policy advice to the District Attorney, founded and co-heads the Human Exploitation and Trafficking Unit, and has other case-related responsibilities. Under the supervision of the Chief of Staff, the Spokesperson and two assistants aid the OCDA in investigations and trial preparations, formulate strategies, provide analysis, and develop policies.”

She also, according to her job description, represents Rackauckas “at meetings, conferences, Boards, Commissions, and other public and private events.”

Requirements for her job include “possession of: Mental stamina and resilience sufficient to engage in difficult and complex interaction with managers and officials with differing points of view, regarding sensitive and complex operational issues.”

As of 2013, the latest figures available, she earned a $144,830.40 salary plus benefits for a total of $229,275.76.

Who is Susan Kang Schroeder?

Susan Heesoo Kang Schroeder was born in South Korea and immigrated to the U.S. 37 years ago when she was 10 years old.

She’s a lawyer who worked as a spokeswoman for the California Republican Party in the 1990s and, according to the Los Angeles Times, was engaged to Michael Schroeder when newly-elected Orange County District Attorney Rackauckas hired her in 1999. Michael Schroeder was the California Republican chairman at the time and was instrumental in Rackauckas’ election.

Currently, she also acts as Rackauckas’ chief spokeswoman on high-profile cases, like the trial of two former Fullerton police officers who were tried by Rackauckas but acquitted of wrongdoing in the beating death of mentally ill transient Kelly Thomas.

Michael and Susan Schroeder divorced in 2014, according to county records. But Rackauckas, in his January 20 swearing-in ceremony speech, said Michael Schroeder served as his campaign chairman last year when he won with more than 73 percent of the vote. Susan Schroeder was his campaign manager. They apparently volunteered because their names don’t show on campaign statements as being paid.

  • Debby Bodkin

    Attorneys licensed to practice law, aka “Officers of the Court” should be well versed in federal and state conflict of interest statutes. It makes no sense that neither Ms. Schroeder nor DA Rackauckas understand the letter of the law versus the INTENT of the law. However, these individuals continue to publicly grandstand by “shaming” Johns and violating the civil rights of “alleged” gang members…. using tax dollars and the loss of lawsuits to fund their public grandstanding.
    A recent Los Angeles Daily Journal article claims that Orange County is having trouble securing Judgeships involving Asst OC District Attorneys based on the shenanigans that have continued in the DA’s office, without corrective action, since Rackauckas took office in 1998. It is time for BIG CHANGE and IMO, there have been too many reputations and careers destroyed because of Rackauckas and his followers’ failures to act in accordance with the laws of the land, on behalf of the public. Where is the FBI?

  • Kathleen Tahilramani

    Request: Will the Voice of OC look at Mr. Fiala’s post and evaluate the vulgar comment he directs at Ms. Schroeder. Comments like that are not productive and no matter what your view is of Ms. Schroeder’s exemption from the completion of Form 700, she does not deserve this disgusting and off topic comment. I propose that this comment merits the banning of the poster.

    • “Comments like that are not productive and no matter what your view is of Ms. Schroeder’s exemption from the completion of Form 700, she does not deserve this disgusting and off topic comment.”………. Hmmmmmm

      So were allegedly not productive cartoons about the Mohammad, yet whole world leaders agreed that hey were productive you progressive agitator loon.

      YOUR COMMENT IS OFF TOPIC.

      • Kathleen Tahilramani

        Like most prudent people, I am putting you on “ignore”.

        • Good!
          This county is full of ignorants so one more makes no difference.

        • OK you can now remove me from the ignore section.

          The VOC minister of propaganda submitted to your AK47 attack.

          This country is allegedly “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

          FYI people: If you are not breve you can’t be free!

          So, you deserve Susan Kang Schroeder, and District Attorney Tony Rackauckas.

          I should add that we need King Abdullah II of Jordan who is the only contemporary leader hawing bolls to moderate this blog.

  • As long as the bloggers will not learn meaning of the word “congress” all their efforts are meaningless.

    Satiric example:

    Who is Susan Kang Schroeder?……. Hmmmmm
    To me she is f.u.c.k.i.n.g b.i.t.c.h and to you, based on the VOC politically correct rules, she is lovemaking female.

    Therefore, why are you asking who is she if the answer is predetermined by your rules?

    Caveat: I believe that a satiric expression requires degree of IQ for its interpretation. Therefore, I may be discriminating against the moron mongoloids

  • Joe Fierro

    YEs! absolutely! That is a vested interested for the tax system and constituents tax contributions!

  • Kathleen Tahilramani

    Ok people, How many of us completed the form 700 for decades and nagged our staff, department heads and department employees who were designated to get the form completed and submitted on time? From HR staff, managers, executives, financial, contracts, IT staff and the beat goes on – in essence anyone with a potential conflict of interest got the yearly form 700 drill. The most diligent did research on all of their assets to ensure they were reporting properly. So, bottom line there is NO excuse for Ms.Schroeder to get a pass on filing this form – and I repeat for emphasis “NONE”. So, it raises the ugly question – why the “exception”. Maybe the DA should explain the reasoning in terms that are logical and clear so that others can see if their circumstances warrant a magical thinking exemption. This leads one to ask – what is being hidden here? What is the point of the entire form 700 exercise if people who clearly must file given their position, duties and influence are allowed to sidestep the process?
    Next scandal please – notice how the voice delivers one county government scandal every 24-48 hours?

    The OC Register remains in a self-induced coma when it comes to reporting local government antics. Oh wait, I recall the Register doing an entire article on Ms.Schroeder’s make-up, favorite orange scented perfume and that she favors St, John knit suits. That piece was a spit out your coffee in the morning waste of space.

    • Steve W.

      “Next scandal please – notice how the voice delivers one county government scandal every 24-48 hours?”

      Even if they have to manufacture it!!! 😉

      • Kathleen Tahilramani

        History shows that the county just produces mess after mess and actually the scandals just fall into the lap of the VOC for easy exposure.

        • Steve W.

          History shows government employees are reluctant to take chances on innovating and prefer playing it safe. The Voice of OC’s tabloid rush-to-judgment style reinforces that. Take Probolsky’s infamous “raise,” for example. The Voice of OC keeps reporting it as some shady, outrageous raise, but doesn’t report it’s like a $1.50 an hour increase. It’s not hard for reporters and bloggers to string together cherry-picked information to make someone look bad. The Voice seems increasingly more interested in bagging scalps than informing the public. It’s getting old. Maybe sensationalism is better for getting readers to click the Donate button.

          • David Zenger

            Steve, I’ve got to disagree with you on one point. Probolsky’s “raise” is just another in a conga line of special treatment for this chap backed by Pat Bates, and apparently now by Nguyen/Do.

            Anybody caught deliberately falsifying time cards or approving false time cards should be fired immediately.

        • Steve W.

          However, you’re right that her position should be required to file a Form 700.

  • Steve W.

    “They apparently volunteered because their names don’t show on campaign statements as being paid.”

    Too bad Voice reporters don’t know much about campaigns and politics. “Campaign chairman” is always an honorary title, not a paid position. Campaign chairs are prominent people who lend their cache and help raise money. And Americans are still free to volunteer for candidates of their choice without having to report it to the government.

    Speaking about transparency, the Voice of OC hasn’t filed disclosure forms with the IRS since 2013. Why not? How can the Voice demand of others what it doesn’t demand of itself?

  • David Zenger

    Speaking of lawyers, Louis Brandeis famously said “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.”