Amid Informants Scandal, Supervisors Discuss Larger Role for Watchdog

Orange County supervisors Todd Spitzer (left) and Andrew Do during a meeting about whether to expand the purview of the county's Office of Independent Review. (Photo by: Norberto Santana Jr.)

Orange County supervisors Todd Spitzer (left) and Andrew Do during a meeting about whether to expand the purview of the county's Office of Independent Review. (Photo by: Norberto Santana Jr.)

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Amid an ongoing scandal over jailhouse informants, Orange County supervisors are considering an expansion of their law enforcement review office to cover other county departments beyond the Sheriff’s Department.

The informants scandal – which has included misuse of informants, withholding of key evidence, alleged perjury by law enforcement, and convicted criminals being released early due to the botching of their cases – has rocked the county’s criminal justice system and led to calls for a U.S. Department of Justice investigation of District Attorney Tony Rackauckas’ office.

County Supervisors have complained that Steve Connolly, who heads the county’s Office of Independent Review (OIR), didn’t keep them adequately informed about what was going on with the informants scandal since it came to light last year.

Over the past few months, two supervisors – Todd Spitzer and Andrew Do – have been working with law enforcement oversight expert Michael Gennaco on ideas for how to boost the effectiveness of the OIR, which is tasked with monitoring the Sheriff’s Department. They also plan on letting Connolly go at the end of the year.

At an ad-hoc committee meeting Monday, Gennaco presented an update to both supervisors about ideas for strengthening the oversight model, such as adding resources to audit sheriff’s investigations and practices and bringing in law students and volunteers as daily jail monitors.

“Things have been happening in this county behind the scenes for a long, long time that have great import, and then eventual ramification” to the supervisors, Spitzer said.

A good deal of focus Monday was on the idea of broadening the review office’s scope to other departments, including the DA’s office – which along with the Sheriff’s Department is at the center of the jailhouse informants scandal. Others include the Probation Department, Public Defender’s office, and Child Protective Services.

Sheriff Sandra Hutchens is a “big proponent of opening this review countywide” to the entire criminal justice system, said Undersheriff John Scott, who represented Hutchens at Monday’s meeting.

Executives from each department being considered for extra scrutiny attended Monday’s meeting to answer questions from supervisors, except for the DA’s office. Later, DA spokeswoman Roxi Fyad declined to say why Rackauckas didn’t send a representative or what the office thought about the expanded oversight proposal.

The sheriff’s department, meanwhile, seemed to welcome additional scrutiny.

Scott said he believed Hutchens would be comfortable with having the outside office audit her department’s processes, including hiring practices, background investigations, and issuing of concealed gun permits.

That is, as long as the outside reviewers are bound by attorney-client privilege, which means they could share what they find with supervisors in closed session, but not publicly. Officials repeatedly said such a restriction is legally required in order for an outside person to gain access to confidential personnel and investigation files.

Scott also supported having those reviews take place even in areas when no specific problems have been found, which he described as being “proactive.”

“I think doing [audits] in advance is a better way of doing business,” said Scott, who recently served as interim sheriff in Los Angeles County after the prior Sheriff Lee Baca abruptly stepped down amid a jail beatings scandal.

Scott said his experience last year in LA County taught him that there has to be somebody “looking continually” at department operations.

“Ultimately there was abuse in the jail,” Scott said. “So yes, I think it could happen here if we didn’t have sufficient oversight and people that are responsible being accountable for their actions.”

That stood in contrast to Public Defender Frank Ospino, who argued passionately that his office is running well and without any scandals.

Ospino also found it strange that his staff would be targeted for greater scrutiny when they were the ones who revealed the law enforcement wrongdoing that prompted the oversight debate. “I’m not aware of any major instances where there has been any public defender misconduct” or “any lawsuit” pending against his office, he said.

Spitzer heaped praise on the Public Defender’s staff for exposing the informants scandal, but said supervisors still had an interest in preventing lawsuits that could cost the county substantial sums of money.  Do agreed.

“We’re not limited to just reacting to things that already happened,” Do said.

Ospino also argued that legal ethics prevent his office from sharing clients’ case files with outside reviewers. But Gennaco said systemic issues could be looked at without intruding on attorney-client concerns.

Mike Ryan, the county’s social services director, said he’s not opposed to having Child Protective Services be subject to independent review. But he wants to avoid “redundancies” and ensure that children’s confidentiality is protected.

Spitzer, meanwhile, pointed out that supervisors get “dragged into” cases that result in lawsuits against the county but for which supervisors are limited in the independent info they can get.

In one case, he said, an emergency room doctor came to a different opinion about child sex abuse allegations than a county social worker.

“We didn’t have a mechanism as a board [to say]…wait a minute, somebody needs to go talk to that doctor” and have a professional who works for supervisors figure out “what the heck’s going on,” Spitzer said.

Another hearing on oversight changes will likely take place on Nov. 9, according to Spitzer.

You can contact Nick Gerda at ngerda@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.

  • John Claxton

    How come the PA PG departments aren’t on the list! They should have been the top 1&2!

  • LFOldTimer

    Well, the finger pointing begins. The radio just announced that the DA spokeshole Susan Kang-Schroeder accused Spitzer of including the DA’s office in the oversight design to posture himself for a future run for the corner office at the DA’s office. She also reportedly said that the Sheriff controls jail operations. What happens in the jails is owned by the Sheriff. OCSD initiates the use of informants. OCSD controls the informants. OCSD builds cases by handling the informants. Once the case is made OCSD delivers it to the DA for prosecution. Sounds logical. So it sounds as if the fruit of the poisonous tree was picked and packaged without the assistance of the DA’s office. Only after it was delivered did things go from bad to worse. Kang-Schroeder did not go into detail, only to say that the DA has established safeguards to avoid any repeat performances. IMO the problem with a single multi-agency oversight model is that the big dog with the greatest political influence could set the tone for whatever investigation ensues. This little spat between the DA’s office and the Sheriff could easily mushroom out of control, especially when an agency feels unfairly or unproportionally targeted by the appointed watchdogs. Commenter Jasenn Zaejian brings up an excellent point. Unless internal checks and balances
    exist within the model that preclude political manipulation the multi-agency design could turn into a disaster of enormous magnitude that could easily spill over into services provided to the public. Unpaid independent civilian panelists with no ties or allegiences to the internal players would be critical for the success of this program.

    • Paul Lucas

      I encourage setting those two against each other and allow them to consume each other and themselves. save us the time energy and effort and expense of having to do it ourselves. let them rat each other out to save their respective hides.

    • Jacki Livingston

      Well, I am filing a complaint with the California Bar Association against Spitzer, his judge wife and his close friend who is a judge, for misconduct and conflict of interest. He rigs the Worker’s Comp claims of County employees through his wife, who runs the Anaheim office, and assigns County cases to a judge who is a close friend and client of Todd’s.

      But T-Rack is no better. I filed a report with him about criminal fraud and abuse at an OC nursing home, involving the help of County employees and leaders. He couldn’t be bothered.

      I hope they chew each other up and spit each other out. Brock Zimmons should be DA. He is an ethical and intelligent man who has led the Grand Jury and does a fabulous job.

    • Jacki Livingston

      “spokeshole”

      I just notice this. Well played, sir.

  • Jasenn Zaejian

    Regardless of what they decide, true oversight requires truly independent reviews by a committee with subpeona power, mandated to disclose to the public, their findings, and isolated from the possibilities of political manipulations.

    • LFOldTimer

      True dat.

  • Jacki Livingston

    Spitzer is a lying…I cannot even think of a word foul enough to use for that dirtbag. He actually can sit there with a straight face and say that people don’t let the BoS know about wrongdoing? Gee whiz, Todd! I have emails between myself and your own Chief of Staff, Martha Ochoa, where I desperately tried to let you know of corruption, abuse and wrongdoing at SSA. Immediately after I contacted Ms. Ochoa, Todd Spitzer’s wife, who runs the Workers Comp district in Anaheim, showed up on the website information as the assigned judge on my pending case. Three days later, after I asked Ms. Ochoa about that, she assigned a judge who was not only a former client of Spitzer’s, but she was also a close personal friend that he worked with to pass victim’s rights legislation. I saw the writing on the wall and gave up.

    Oh, and Shawn Nelson doesn’t get to blinky blink and claim he didn’t know about these crimes, either, because after SIX YEARS of unanswered letters and Grand Jury testimony, my own congressman, Ken Calvert, called his office to make sure it came to Nelson’s attention. I had gone to him in desperation, after the DA and others did nothing to stop the crimes going on. I know this because Nelson’s own Chief of Staff, Dave Wiggins, emailed me, to “handle” me so I would shut up.

    I am not an anomaly here. Many employees of the County have stepped forward, only to have their reputations, careers and lives destroyed. These “Supervisors” who are elected by the people deliberately put layers of minions between themselves and anything messy, so they keep their deniablity. On top of that, Todd Spitzer (Chairman?) has a wife who can manipulate the Worker’s Compensation cases so that after they grind an employee up, and cause them great harm (in my case? two mini strokes and deterioration of my SLE), they can box them in so that they have no choice but to fold. And then, to add insult to injury, they allow their dirty dog minions to blackball those employees, so they cannot ever work in their field again.

    I feel sorry for Connolly. He probably tried desperately to notify them of things. Ah, Steve…there are things called printers and emails and screenshots. Keep them. You may need them someday.

  • Paul Lucas

    Why aren’t the BOS talking about getting T Rack and his crew arrested and charged with felonies?

    • Al Gibson

      Does the BOS really have the power to arrest and charge? The Attorney General should step in though. T Rack and Susan Kang Schroeder are following in the footsteps of their old buddy Mike Carona.

      • Jacki Livingston

        Well, Todd Spitzer might, if he sees Tony eyeing a plastic spork or something. Remember, Spitzer keeps cuffs and a gun in his car. Ah…if those cuffs could talk…

  • LFOldTimer

    Look, what good is expanded oversight if the quality of the oversight is no better than what the taxpayers and citizens of Orange County got from the OIR and Director Stephen Connolly for the past 7 years? It looks to me like the top bureaucrats are just creating a bigger kingdom for themselves that will fuel nice incomes for ‘friends’ and ‘friends of friends’ while the taxpayers get billed in multiple amounts of what we paid Connolly ($200,000+ just in salary) and about $500,000 per annum to fund his agency. At the meeting did anyone talk about what this new and improved multiple agency oversight will cost the taxpayers? Did anyone talk about the QUALITY of oversight? That’s been the primary problem for the last 7 years. Even the supes admitted to that. Will the County just hire more lapdogs? Worse yet, will the bureaucrats turn the OIR into a political mechanism to play one agency against another? It’s actually very easy and convenient for appointed investigators to be highly selective in choosing their targets. Based on the scenario described in this article I could easily see the PDO (the runt of the bunch) becoming the County’s whipping boy. So who oversees the overseers? The BoS again? ha. We saw how well that worked with the current OIR and Director Connolly, didn’t we? He was given free reign to accomplish nothing. The only way we get authentic, impartial and effective oversight is to create enough self-monitoring checks and balances in the chosen model to keep it clean and free from political manipulation. Yesterday under Norberto’s OIR blog Commenter Jasenn Zaejian pointed us in the right direction. Include unpaid citizen volunteers selected via the same mechanism that jurors are selected. Unpaid citizen volunteers who aren’t subject to political manipulation. Or have former Grand Jury foreman select them. And seat them for a year or two at a time – and allow them to monitor the workings of the OIR and report to the public. It would cost the County nothing. I emphasize “unpaid”. Oh, and don’t use that lame excuse that it won’t pass legal muster. Baloney. Not only are there many oversight models similar to this concept in operation throughout the Nation, several counties and cities in the State of California have adopted unpaid civilian police oversight as well. The only thing that would stand in the way of it’s implementation in Orange County is lack of will on part of the bureaucrats.

  • Bob Brock

    Interesting dichotomy that Sheriff Hutchens welcomes scrutiny and Rackauckas is dashing for shadows like a cockroach when it comes to any kind of independent review. T-Rack is old and tired and he is embarrassing Orange County.

    • LFOldTimer

      Hutchens is mouthing words. Did you see her reaction when the State AG had the nerve to “scrutinze” her department with regard to jail informant scandal? I thought she was going to blow a gasket.

    • Jacki Livingston

      Well said. I brought the crimes I witnessed to two of his ADA’s, an investigator and the Grand Jury, and T-Rack did nada. He is ridiculous, and he needs to be replaced, but not with Spitzie. That would just be like the blind leading the naked. No good.

    • David Zenger

      Bob, with regard to our DA I couldn’t have said it better myself. However I would still be forced to choose him as DA over Sptizer who just isn’t right in the noggin.

      As for Hutchens, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if the OIR concept is so crucial for running the Sheriff’s department then let her pay for it out of her budget – and NO augmentation.

      • LFOldTimer

        If Hutchens would just agree to pay for any future lawsuit judgments or settlements for wrongful or illegal conduct by her deputies out of her own OCSD annual budget I wouldn’t even enter into this conversation. They could hire Dracula to oversee Frankenstein for all I care. What bothers me is that those who violate simply transfer the monetary punishment for their sins onto the innocent taxpayers. (See the recent Westminster Council decision to force the taxpayers to eat the $2M punitive judgement against their police executives). The ones who violate walk away unscathed. If I were Hutchens I would adore Stephen Connolly. He’d walk on water. He’s been asleep at the wheel since 2008. Basically, a stenographer for the Department. What not to love about that if you’re the sheriff that he was hired to oversee?

        • Debby Bodkin

          Public court records reveal that attorney Albert Ballog has represented the OC Sheriff’s Department for 20 plus years. Ballog’s law firm also represents the Catholic Diocese of Orange, County of Orange and multiple clients with potential adverse interests.

          The USDOJ and FBI have full knowledge of Ballog’s conflicts of interests and potential obstruction of justice crimes as Ballog continues to build his financial portfolio, laughing all the way to the bank, with the blessing of the OC Board of Supervisors, OC District Attorney and of course, one of Ballog’s clients the OC Sheriff.

        • Debby Bodkin

          Is there a possibility that all of the investigations involving the jail house beating of John Derek Chamberlain were a farce from Day 1. Chamberlain’s father was paid $500,000 as settlement that probably ensured his silence. There is much more to Chamberlain’s arrest, incarceration and death. DA Rackauckas and OC Sheriff are just waiting out another statute of limitation. IMO, more RICO crimes surrounding Chamberlain’s death remain hidden from the public.

          • LFOldTimer

            Those were back in the good ‘ol days when a few supes worshipped the ground that America’s Finest Sheriff Mike Carona walked on. Right up to the day he was indicted. Then they quickly distanced themselves and started badmouthing him. Politics has a way of doing that.