In the face of mounting pressure, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas has reversed course and now will require his chief of staff, Susan Kang Schroeder, to file annual financial disclosure statements, according to the Orange County Register.
But it’s unclear whether Schroeder will have to retroactively file the disclosures, known as Form 700s, for each year since she was given the chief of staff title in 2010.
The new policy applies to all lawyers on the DA’s staff, according to the Register article, which quoted Senior Assistant District Attorney Michael Lubinski as saying it is patterned after the Santa Barbara County DA’s policy.
Lubinski said the new policy would raise the number of employees required to file from the current 21 to about 275, according to the Register article.
On Thursday, Voice of OC asked the DA’s office to confirm the new policy but received no answer.
The action followed two Voice of OC articles that raised questions about Schroeder, a member of Rackauckas’ inner circle, not being required to file the disclosure statements, which provide the public with a basic picture of an official’s financial holdings and who they do business with in their private life.
They are important tools in determining possible conflicts of interest among public officials and the myriad of private individuals and entities that contract with government agencies.
County political watchdog Shirley Grindle filed a complaint April 21 with County Counsel Nicholas Chrisos over Schroeder’s failure to file. In it, she cited the two Voice of OC articles and said Schroeder should be required to file as well for each year going back to 2010.
In an interview Thursday after word got out about the new policy, Grindle said she still believes Schroeder needs to file retroactively. If the county counsel’s office determines Schroeder should have been filing all along, Grindle can ask the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission or FPPC to take action against Schroeder, Rackauckas or both.
Until their divorce last year, Susan Schroeder was married to Michael J. Schroeder, a multi-millionaire former head of the state Republican Party, who helped put Rackauckas in office in 1998. Last year, Michael Schroeder was Rackauckas’ re-election campaign chairman and Susan Schroeder served as both his chief of staff and campaign manager.
If Susan Schroeder ends up having to file the disclosures retroactively, she might have to list Michael Schroeder’s sources of income as part of their joint assets.
Additionally, there have been questions regarding the involvement of Susan Schroeder’s outside music promotion business in DA office events that were intended to raise awareness and funds for victims of human trafficking.
According to Facebook photos and comments, she and her business partner, musician Scott Foster, might have also received gifts, including rides on private jets, that Susan Schroeder could have had to report if she was required to file the disclosures.
Susan Schroeder, a lawyer, has headed the DA’s news media office for more than 10 years and she retained that assignment when her job title changed in 2010. In each of the nearby Southern California counties, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino and Los Angeles, the lawyer who heads the section that includes the news media office, is required to file disclosure statements.
Los Angeles has even stricter rules. For decades, each public information officer within the news media section has been required to file the forms. Deciding which prosecutions to emphasize for potential news coverage—and which ones not to—are some of the decisions made by the information officers.
Sandi Gibbons, the now-retired former head of the Los Angeles DA’s news media office, said she started working there in 1989 and the requirement for all news media officials was in place then.
Among other assets, she said, “you had to list any outside employment to make sure there wasn’t any conflict of interest involved.”
The overall state law was adopted by voters in 1972 and it is up to each county to determine which employees must file. The Orange County Board of Supervisors is in the process of updating its filing requirements.
You can contact Tracy Wood at firstname.lastname@example.org