Supervisors Discuss Possibility of Feds Investigating Jailhouse Informants Scandal

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Orange County supervisors are gearing up for the possibility of a U.S. Justice Department probe into the jailhouse informants scandal that has shaken the local criminal justice system.

At their regular meeting Tuesday, the supervisors went into closed session to talk about “the possibility that the United States Department of Justice may launch an investigation, and ultimately, initiate legal action against the County of Orange” based on alleged misconduct by local prosecutors and sheriff’s deputies in the use of jailhouse informants, according to a statement read aloud by County Counsel Leon Page.

Tuesday’s discussion was apparently a lengthy one, involving the supervisors as well as District Attorney Tony Rackauckas and Sheriff Sandra Hutchens. The item was slated to start at 2 p.m., and supervisors didn’t emerge until four and a half hours later.

It follows calls by the New York Times editorial board and national legal authorities for a federal investigation into what has been characterized as systemic violations of defendants’ constitutional rights.

In their letter last month to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, six legal organizations, three dozen former prosecutors from across the nation, and constitutional law experts called the ongoing informants scandal “a crisis.”

“The constitutional rights of defendants appear to have been violated for decades in Orange County,” states the letter, which was signed Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the UC Irvine School of Law and a Voice of OC board member, and John Van de Kamp, a former U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles, California Attorney General and Los Angeles County District Attorney.

The DA’s office responded to the letter by saying that the authors haven’t attended court proceedings in one of the cases in question and “are relying on factually incorrect media accounts of the circumstances of the case.”

The scandal involves illegal 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.

After revelations brought forth by Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders, Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals removed DA prosecutors from the case against Scott Dekraai, who in 2011 committed Orange County’s largest mass murder when he shot and killed eight people, including his ex-wife, in a Seal Beach beauty salon.

A Justice Department attorney told the county in July that “the DOJ is keeping an eye on [the informants issue] to see how it develops,” according to a written summary obtained by the Orange County Register.

Given the timing of Tuesday’s discussion, it’s unclear whether federal authorities have given stronger indications that they could launch an investigation.

An FBI spokeswoman declined to comment on whether an investigation is being considered, and a U.S. Attorney’s office spokesman referred comment to the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, whose spokesperson didn’t return a message late Tuesday.

If the Justice Department does file suit against the county, the supervisors would be in charge of the county’s legal defense, including hiring outside attorneys, directing the legal strategy, and figuring out how any settlement or other costs would be paid for.

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

  • Ed Romero

    The county of Orange has nothing to worry about. According to Supervisor Spitzer “there is no corruption in the County of Orange. He better make sure to contact all those Drug Dealing, Marijuana Smoking, Cocaine Snorting GOP Racist Lesbians that use to run the County of Orange and make sure they get all their lies in a row and remember who said what. What was in those Brown Lunch Bags that all those Deputy Probation Officers use to deliver to that Corrupt Asst. Chief Probation Officer, you know the one that use to Smoke Marijuana all day long and well into the night while on duty, our entire Records Units was so saturated with Marijuana Fumes that at times it looked like a very Foggy Night in London, England.

  • Paul Lucas

    Was the statement read out loud by county counsel from the DOJ? At any rate is there any way you could get the text of that statement so we can view it?

  • mutheta

    Do the excuses by the DA’s office seem familiar to those made by the trustees of the Rancho District?

  • Kathleen Tahilramani

    The Feds are coming, the Feds are coming!!!! Well, heck I will believe it when I see it….and be completely dumbstruck is anything is done. One can only hope but history shows us that at the most someone expendable will get tossed under the yellow bus and then we will hear all about the: reorg, the “new/old” leadership, the new procedures, the committee blah blah……

    • LFOldTimer

      And the BoS will either form an ad-hoc committee to examine policy or spend a few more million on additional training, teaching all those county employees who testify in court to tell the truth. Stephen Connolly will probably ask Hutchens what she wants him to say, as he’s cashing his $17,500 check for November. What a screwed up county.

      • Kathleen Tahilramani

        I am so tired of reading about one screw up after another. The only time anything that is positive occurs is when substantial pressure is applied or a campaign donation is made and the BOS feel forced or obligated. Other than that they are all missing thumbs because they are sitting on them.

  • Paul Lucas

    Id like to say Thank God and What took so long at the same time.

    • LFOldTimer

      Who’s kidding whom? It took 3 dozen well-known seasoned attorneys, to include the Dean of the UCI School of Law, to write a voluminous letter containing the smoking gun evidence to the US Attorney and demand action. I guess there are still people in this nation of ours who believe in promoting civilization and ‘equality under the law’. God forbid. Who woulda thought?

  • Paul Lucas

    They better be throwing some DAs and upper level prosecutors in prison for this circus act.

    • LFOldTimer

      Well, one way or the other we will learn a great deal from this scandal. We will learn whether we are still a civilized nation that demands ‘equality under the law’ or whether we have fallen into chaos and selective anarchy by using the law only to keep the peasants and the unconnected in line. So keep your eyes wide open. This is a critical time in our history as a people. And teach your children well.

  • LFOldTimer

    It’s about damn time. I thought that Pope Francis and the United Nation’s Secretary General would have to make a special trip to the Hall of Administration to make something happen. I mean there’s no indication of any wrongdoing. Hardened murderers are getting sentences substantially reduced or walking. Some are getting new trials and no doubt their cases will get plea bargained down to nothing. Gee, I wonder why? But our ‘change agent’ sheriff says there’s no scandal and all it takes is more training. What sort of alternate universe have we created for ourselves? Sometimes I feel like I’m living in an insane asylum. Hopefully the feds will clean house. None of this is acceptable in a civilized society. Mike Carona – are you watching?