Supervisors Ready to Expand Role of Law Enforcement Watchdog

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After months of wrangling, Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairman Todd Spitzer seems to have the votes needed to increase the board’s oversight of District Attorney Tony Rackauckas’ office.

On a 3-2 vote Tuesday, supervisors directed county staff to prepare language that steps up the reporting duties of the county’s Office of Independent Review  (OIR) and expands its role beyond the Sheriff’s Department to include the DA’s office, Public Defender’s office, Probation Department, and Social Services Agency.

Spitzer has been clamoring for the expansion in the wake of the jailhouse informants scandal that has rocked the DA and Sheriff’s Department over the past year.

He’s said that the longtime OIR director, Steve Connolly, failed to keep board members apprised of developments in that case.

The scandal involves misuse of informants to gain incriminating statements, withholding of key evidence from defendants, alleged perjury by law enforcement, and convicted criminals being released early due to the botching of their cases.

The issues have gained national attention and led to calls for a U.S. Department of Justice investigation of Rackauckas’ office.

Rackauckas, his prosecutors’ and investigators’ unions, and Public Defender Frank Ospino have fought hard against the proposal. Meanwhile, Sheriff Sandra Hutchens – who says the OIR model has worked great in her department – supports the expansion.

Joining Spitzer in Tuesday’s vote were supervisors Andrew Do and Lisa Bartlett. Supervisors Shawn Nelson and Michelle Steel voted no.

Spitzer noted that supervisors are often having to deal with lawsuits over alleged misconduct by county law enforcement but lack a way to get an independent set of eyes and ears on the situation.

“We don’t have a venue” to get an independent evaluation, Spitzer said.

Do agreed, saying the expanded role wouldn’t involve review of day-to-day operations but rather deeper dives on systemic issues that come up.

“I look at oversight as a review process…to address what we see as the systemic flaws in our system” or “particular incidents that point to inherent flaws within our system, whether it be a lack of transparency or accountability,” Do said.

The review office has drawn the ire of some supervisors over the years, largely over claims that its director, Steve Connolly, hasn’t done enough to keep them informed about key issues, like the informants scandal.

Nelson, meanwhile, questioned why OIR should be expanded if it’s failed to do its job up until now by not being active enough.

“It is totally illogical to think that our experience curve in this area is somehow going to be improved by expanding the role of that which has already failed us. That makes no sense,” he said.

“Impress us once, then let’s have this discussion…let the facts tell us it’s the right thing to do.”

Do responded that the problem is with Connolly, not with the notion of having such a role.

“It is really hard for me to think that somehow we are asked to write the checks yet we have no quote-unquote ‘power’ to” get an independent evaluation of cases, he said.

Steel reiterated Nelson’s comments, saying supervisors should first focus on making sure the oversight office “really works the way it’s originally intended…before we grow its size and cost.”

Meanwhile, Bartlett – who is a crucial third vote in support of the changes – noted that many of criminal justice cases involve multiple county departments, making it important to “have everything in one umbrella.”

It’s “really important for us to get involved as board to intervene and participate on the front end” to address liability down the road, Bartlett said. “An ounce of prevention’s worth a pound of cure”

While the general idea of the expansion has majority support, the details still have to be worked out.

Specific changes are expected to come before supervisors at a future meeting, where they’d vote again on whether to actually expand the oversight office’s duties.

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

  • John Claxton

    I think they also should have over sight of County Counsel,especially now that Low Life Leon Page is in charge. His head is so far up his a$$! He is going to cost the County millions – Mark my words.

  • Cecilia Watt

    How can injured workers get the names of other injured workers who call in to report that they are the victims of relentless and sometimes heinous crimes that seem to be perpetrated by the defense i.e. law firms, employers and insurance carrier in workers compensation claims. I contacted the O.C. DA’S office on several occasions due to being the target of a plethora of crimes including being brutally forced under anesthesia and maimed from my skull down to my tailbone during workers compensation procedures. Each time, I spoke to an investigator. The first time, I was told that my workers comp case is NOT unique. Another time, I was told that the O.C. DA’s office gets about 30 complaints a month from injured workers with complaints of crimes beset against them. It appears that O.C. and the State of CA for that matter seem to be more apt to pursue crimes facilitated against the insurance carriers but if the insurance carrier’s are committing crimes and the WCAB for that matter, are committing crimes against injured workers, our complaints are not met with concern for our welfare. If our county officials are participating because employers or law firms are contributing campaign funds, then how do we get justice for the plethora of heinous crimes beset against us?

  • What might be the possible impact of the OIR on the case where Rackauckas’ Senior Deputy DA Scott Simmons continues to deny access, for seven years, to DNA evidence that could possibly clear Kenneth Clair of murder?

  • Paul Lucas

    “and Public Defender Frank Ospino have fought hard against the proposal”
    Is this true? This is unacceptable and should cause the dismissal of Ospino and hopefully make the Public Defender an elected position that is equal to the elected DA.

  • LFOldTimer

    Nelson’s right on this one. When a specific agency has proven to be a failure for the last 7 years the one thing you don’t do is expand the agency exponentially, which will cost the taxpayers multiple amounts of what the failed experiment under Connolly cost us. It’s one of the most convoluted, irrational decisions I’ve ever seen in County government. You start off slow to make sure you got it right. And once you’re convinced it works – then you expand it. Not a minute before. But when they chose to extend the $17,500/mo. contract for a man that most of the Supes openly admitted was a total failure at his job – something smelled a little fishy – and it wasn’t a fish taco. My guess is that the ‘new and improved’ OIR won’t be any more independent than the failed one under Connolly. Just more workfare for the insiders from L.A. and a political tool to browbeat the ones who fail to march to the tune of the BoS. This will end up being a political cat o’ nine tails to keep everyone in line with minimal true oversight. Look, Connolly has been holding hands with Hutchens for the last 7 years. Do you think he might question why sworn officers who refuse to testify in their criminal cases due to the aftermath of the jail informant scandal, resulting in hardened felons having their sentences significantly reduced or getting new trials still have their jobs? ha. Did any of the Supes demand for Connolly to do his job? Brace yourself for another train wreck in motion. This is not their money that they’re spending. It’s yours.

    • David Zenger

      Spitzer is a complete disaster. Remember back in the late 90s when they wouldn’t let him be Chair? There was a reason for that.

      • LFOldTimer

        Spitzer couldn’t do it alone. It took 2 others and a majority to kick it across the finish line. When public policy is motivated primarily by politics only bad things happen. Politics over public interest. These aren’t stupid people sitting at the DAIS. They know exactly what they’re doing and where their decisions will take us. And when they start rewarding failure – watch out.

        • David Zenger

          True, but Spitzer presided over this idiotic metastasis.

          “When public policy is motivated primarily by politics only bad things happen.”

          That, in a nutshell, is exactly what is wrong at the County. And that is why Grindle’s “ethics” commission will be stillborn, and exactly why the Supervisors are so happy to embrace it and call it “reform.”

          • Kathleen Tahilramani

            Any CEO who does not do exactly what the BOS orders them to do will have their bobblehead cut off and handed to them on a platter. For the current CEO the loss of his head would be so sad, for the one before him he probably never noticed the decapitation.

      • Charlotte Banks

        Todd couldn’t become chair for the same reason Tom Wilson was never chair… Coad, Silva and Smith wanted to block them from the position because they were anti-El Toro Airport.
        During his term as chair, Todd named a new CEO, County counsel, CFO, Clerk, etc. He’s secured open space for the County, he’s taken the lead on the homeless shelter issue, the OIR… he’s done more in the last 12 months than you’ve done in the last 12 years. Your obsession with Spitzer is a bit odd to say the least.

        • David Zenger

          Obsession? Yes, I’m obsessed about things like a gun-totin’ County Supervisor who frisks and handcuffs an innocent man in a public restaurant.

          His homeless shelter is a joke foisted on him by Anaheim politicians. He never “named” a CEO or a Clerk or a CFO – you’re just makin’ stuff up. And what open space did he ever “secure” and how did he do it? A breathless public awaits this tall tale.

          Some recent events:

          He shook down the Parks Department to help pay for his self-aggrandizing “victims” memorial.

          He turned Karma the Wolf Dog into a completely unnecessary comic opera in three acts trying to divert attention from the Wahoo handcuff incident.

          And now he has completely screwed up the OIR situation – turning a small time problem into a big time government expansion.

          The only thing that preening megalomaniac has done in the last 12 months is incessantly polish his own apple. Nobody else – except maybe you – will do it.

          I used to think the Spitzer Show was just a comical routine in a sad sort of way. Now I’m convinced he is a menace to good government and even public safety.

          It takes a lot to make Janet Nguyen look not so bad.

  • David Zenger

    I propose an OIR to oversee the Supervisor’s offices and behavior that takes place therein.

  • Debby Bodkin

    OC Supervisor Nelson’s “No” vote confirms that IMO, he continues to seek ways to stay in the good graces of the OC District Attorney. It appears he does not want to get on the wrong side of the OC GOP.

    I can still remember Nelson’s public statements in support of DA Rackauckas when the Fullerton PD officers were acquitted for the beating death of Kelly Thomas. When prosecutors and defense attorneys approve a jury member who at one time worked for DA Rackauckas to be on the jury, something is very very wrong, and/or IMO, shows evidence of a fixed jury situation.

    Mr. Nelson, you took an oath to uphold the laws of the land on behalf of the People, you are an attorney and should know the restrictions relating to conflict of interest. Let’s hope someone investigates you, on behalf of the People.

    • Paul Lucas

      I think the DOJ should add jury tampering to their indictment of T Rack for that bs.