DA Pushes Back Against Effort to Expand County Oversight Office

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District Attorney Tony Rackauckas has now gone public with his opposition to an effort to expand county supervisors’ oversight of his office, as supervisors meet today to see if there’s enough support to keep pursuing the expansion.

In a letter sent Monday to the supervisors, Rackauckas argued that such an expansion of the Office of Independent Review is both unnecessary and legally impossible.

“A county oversight committee cannot legally exercise any supervisory control over the manner in which the District Attorney executes its prosecutorial function. The District Attorney also cannot legally nor prudently share the vast majority of investigative and prosecutorial material within its possession to a third-party oversight committee,” Rackaucaks wrote.

He went on to argue that there’s already sufficient oversight of his office through the state Attorney General, county grand jury, courts and the California State Bar.

A union that represents front-line prosecutors is also pushing back, saying the proposal triggers “meet and confer” requirements and that there’s already enough oversight as it is.

“There is a system in place already in California, in the United States, that covers what you’re seeking to do,” said Larry Yellin, president of the Orange County Attorney’s Association, at a Monday meeting of an ad-hoc supervisors’ committee about the expansion.

In response, supervisors’ Chairman Todd Spitzer says the expansion has been mischaracterized. ”I think there’s a really big and gross misunderstanding” that the “board somehow wants to micromanage cases,” he said.

Supervisors are in charge of settling lawsuits over issues like children improperly removed from homes, Spitzer added, and today board members “don’t have anybody that helps us with that assessment. We’re literally in the dark” as a board as to whether there’s credibility to allegations.

Supervisor Andrew Do also said that the expansion wouldn’t get into how criminal cases are handled in real time.

“I’m not advocating an oversight model where we go in and look over your police report” and decide what code section you’ll charge, Do said during the meeting.

The Office of Independent Review has drawn the ire of several supervisors over the years, largely over claims that its director, Steve Connolly, hasn’t done enough to keep them informed about key issues, such as the DA’s ongoing scandal surrounding jailhouse informants.

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 Rackauckas’ office.

The county sheriff’s deputies’ union, which represents DA investigators, agrees that the expansion – including having the review office involved in employee discipline – requires a meet-and-confer process, pointing out that the county agreed to a similar position in 2008 when the review office was set up at the sheriff’s department.

They also argue that DA employees have the right to prevent the expansion under their labor contract.

These types of “matters cannot be bargained, and they cannot be changed, absent consent” from the workers, attorney Adam Chaikin wrote in a letter to supervisors on behalf of the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs.

Tuesday’s supervisors meeting should reveal whether Spitzer’s effort to expand the office has enough support to move forward.

He needs two other supportive supervisors to move forward. Supervisor Michelle Steel has been steadfastly against expansion, particularly to the DA’s office, and Supervisor Shawn Nelson isn’t considered likely to support it either.

That likely leaves supervisors Lisa Bartlett and Andrew Do as the two swing votes.

“In terms of how do we structure that oversight, is really probably the biggest difference in terms of the different thinking that may exist on the board,” Do said Monday.

There’s also an open question about what will happen when Connolly’s contract expires on Dec. 31.

Spitzer and Nelson earlier this year announced plans to let Connolly’s prior contract expire at the end of August, saying he’s unfit for the job. But they later extended it to the end of the year.

Now, Spitzer is suggesting Connolly could stay on past the end of the year, if there’s board support.

Connolly “is willing to cooperate with the board and the sheriff’s department, whether it’s on a term or a month to month [contract]. But he is very amenable to working with us while we continue our search” for a replacement, Spitzer said.

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

  • Cynthia Ward

    My head is going to explode.

    “They also argue that DA employees have the right to prevent the expansion under their labor contract.
    These types of ‘matters cannot be bargained, and they cannot be changed, absent consent’ from the workers, attorney Adam Chaikin wrote in a letter to supervisors on behalf of the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs.”

    Uh, EXCUSE ME? Where else on the planet do employees get to decide how much supervision will be permitted of their work?! These would be the SAME employees that have been running the jailhouse informant scam, and costing taxpayers in settlement fees and early release of prisoners to people proving the DA’s office SCREWED UP CASES!!!

    Sorry, Charlie, when you start costing the taxpayers of Orange County big bucks for your incompetence and corruption seeping into the court system, and when your direct and deliberate actions imperil the citizens of OC because dangerous criminals are BACK ON THE STREETS because YOU FAILED TO DO YOUR JOB while breaking the law to put them away, then YES, we DO have every right to expand the supervision of your department! And if you don’t like it, well go find a Judge who wants to listen to your sob story, Tony. Oh, that’s right, OC Judges don’t want to deal with his corrupt department either! How bad do you have to be at being the District Attorney to make Judges hate your guts? Think about that. Tony, it is time to accept the gold watch and retirement dinner the BoS would host for you (I would even pop for a ticket for that hotel chicken dinner!) and no, the Chief of Staff cleverly disguised as a cocktail waitress does not get to take your place. And take your Chief Investigator when you hit the door, too. ENOUGH!!!

    God help me but I will say it, thank you Todd Spitzer for cracking down on this Deliverance-style law enforcement nightmare, I don’t CARE what Spitzer’s motives are as long as we clean up this department. Oversight? Yeah OK, it is better than what we have NOW, but frankly what we need is a giant broom and a bucket of disinfectant!

    • David Zenger

      “I don’t CARE what Spitzer’s motives are as long as we clean up this department.”

      His motives are to make himself DA. To which I can only say: Wahoos Fish Taco Bible Boy.

      • Jacki Livingston

        Todd Spitzer as DA would be an unmitigated disaster for everyone.

  • Jacki Livingston

    Tony, Tony, Tony…you poor, deluded man. You played the politics game with Moorlach and Nguyen, and did nothing about the criminal embezzlement going on. I spoke to not one, but THREE people in your office, about the fraud and conspiracy going on at SSA, and you did nothing to help. I tried to give them internal emails, and you didn’t want them. Now Toddy wants your job. My, my, Tony, how the worm does turn. You refused to investigate wrongdoing, because you thought it would gain you political points. Now, it all turned against you. I don’t want to see that crooked thug, Spitzer, as the DA. But I cannot help but smile, watching you get the blowback from this sstorm. enjoy.

  • LFOldTimer

    “Now, Spitzer is suggesting Connolly could stay on past the end of the year, if there’s board support.”
    Ha. The fix is in. The man who made a complete farce of what the OIR was designed to originally represent is now a candidate for a contract extension to serve on the ‘new and improved’ OIR. How could anyone who’s been paying attention take any of this process seriously and not see the writing on the wall? No doubt in my mind that Connolly’s good friend, Gennaco, highly recommends a contract extension @ $17,500 or more a month. I’ve completely lost faith. This is conclusive evidence for me that County government doesn’t act in the best interests of those it’s supposed to serve, it serves itself. It’s one big family that serves the interests of the insiders. Like George Carlin, God rest his soul, once told us “It’s a big club. It’s a big club and you and I ain’t in it”.

    • David Zenger

      If only Spitzer could run the County with the care and dedication he applies to running Todd Spitzer, Inc.

      I’m starting to believe he can’t do anything right when it comes to actual governance.

      • LFOldTimer

        All I can figure is that Connolly has some major dirt on someone high up in the food chain. Most of the Supes agreed that he failed as an OIR Director. That they learned more from the media about what was going on at OCSD than from Connolly himself. And now another big Connolly-County contract extension is on the table? ha. This stinks to high heaven. It’s already flunked the smell test. I have no idea how any Supe who votes to extend Connolly’s contract or make him a permanent fixture on the OIR payroll can look him or herself in the mirror every morning. Gawd almighty. I don’t even feel like I’m living in America any longer. Now failure is rewarded! ha.