OC Supes Step Up Scrutiny of DA After Informants Scandal Report

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Orange County supervisors are stepping up their scrutiny of District Attorney Tony Rackauckas’ office after a panel of legal experts found that a “failure of leadership” likely contributed to the misuse of jailhouse informants and improper withholding of evidence from defendants.

After a lengthy closed-session on the issue Tuesday, supervisors announced a series of new requirements relating to the informants scandal, including:

  • Reports from Rackauckas and Sheriff Sandra Hutchens on their responses to the panel's findings.
  • Details on which of the panel's recommendations will be implemented, budgetary impacts, and reasons for not implementing any of the recommendations.
  • A ban on the destruction of any and all records relating to the informants network.

Beyond these specific requests, supervisors said they were concerned about the panel's finding of a “a palpable hesitation” among DA staff “to bring problematic information” to Rackauckas’ attention, and emphasized that they do not tolerate retaliation against employees.

Regarding the records, they stipulated that Hutchens and Rackauckas would need approval from County Counsel Leon Page, CEO Frank Kim, and the county's human relations department before any records can be purged.

The new requirements follow last week's release of a scathing report by the panel, which was assembled by Rackauckas himself in response to the ongoing informants scandal.

It involves many cases of 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 the revelations were brought to the fore by public defender Scott Sanders, Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals removed DA prosecutors from the biggest mass murder case in county history.

The situation has led to calls by the New York Times and national legal authorities for a federal investigation into what has been characterized as systemic violations of defendants’ constitutional rights.

In their report, the panelists described some DA prosecutors as consumed by “a win at all costs mentality” that is enabled by Rackauckas' lack of leadership. 

The panel also called for the county grand jury, the state Attorney General or the federal Justice Department to launch an investigation. And last week, Rackauckas sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch that welcomed a federal probe.

Additionally, Rackauckas has said many of the panel's other recommendations will be implemented, if they haven’t already been put in place.

But he did reject a recommendation to demote his chief of staff, Susan Kang Schroeder, who was also his most recent re-election campaign manager.

And Rackauckas delayed a decision on whether to follow through on the recommendation that he restore a second-in-command position under him, known as a chief assistant district attorney.

Tuesday’s move marked a potential turning point for OC supervisors, who traditionally take much more of a hands-off role when it comes to management issues under other elected county officials.

Under the county’s governance structure, the DA’s office and Sheriff’s Department are run by independently-elected officials, with some oversight from county supervisors.

As such, much deference – both legally and politically – is typically given to independent county elected officials, like the sheriff and DA.

Tuesday’s action followed a two-and-a-half-hour closed session supervisors held with Hutchens, Rackauckas, and his deputy Mike Lubinski.

Supervisor Shawn Nelson was absent Tuesday, reportedly on a trip to Washington, D.C. for the Orange County Transportation Authority.

Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.

  • LFOldTimer

    Look, I agree that cops should have a constitutional right against self-incrimination. No problem there. I just don’t believe that cops should have a right to retain employment if they refuse to execute the basic responsibilities that are part and parcel of their official duties. One of those basic responsibilities is testifying under oath is a court of law. By refusing to carry out such a duty significant damage is done to the criminal justice system and to the taxpayers. Imagine if the FBI visited an accountant employed by a large accounting firm and indicated the accounting methods he utilized were illegal. As a result, he refused to perform his accountant duties. Do you think the accounting firm would retain him on the payroll? So why should cops be held to a “lower standard”, particularly when cops are sworn to specificaly uphold and enforce the laws? By refusing to testify violent criminals (murderers) are either walking or getting sweet plea agreements or have been granted NEW TRIALS after being convicted! Cops are supposed to put murders in jail. Not spring them! Do you know how much it costs the taxpayers to finance a new criminal trial (post conviction and sentencing) pursuant to a cop refusing to do his job and testify? Come on. This is absolutely nuts! ARE THERE ANY ADULTS IN THE ROOM???

    • buzzookaman

      BOOM !!!!

  • Paul Lucas

    I would like to ask Todd Spitzer how I can bring a complaint in this matter on the DA for his underlings corrupt behavior in a case I had to deal with that included false reports misuse of informants etc. Yodd you have my number.

  • Diego Vega

    The BOS does not tolerate retaliation against employees?! PUHLEEEZ! OC government wrote the manual on how to commit employee retaliation!!!

    • RITCHIE VALENS

      I filed for wc due to psychiatric injury in 2012 and when I returned to work, it got worse. They retaliated against me by placing in a position that physically I couldn’t handle. They knew this already but still retaliated in this form, until they got restrictions by county dr that they decided to place, not where I expected. The retaliate in many different forms. And supervisors are all one group that protects one another and covers up any wrongdoing by another. As long as they leave me alone from now on, I won’t bite back. C’mon what do you expect when you are manipulated, discriminated and those above you are biased towards you. You take a stand! I enjoy my work but those in higher positions abuse of their status. No one cares about you, here in the C you have to look after yourself. Hipocritas.

    • Kathleen Tahilramani

      No kidding. They devote quite a bit of energy destroying anyone who dares report anything — anyone who reports anything better be on the brink of retirement and able to give them all the finger.

  • R J

    I wonder if any of Todd’s cases during his tenure in the DA’s office are tainted by the same unconstitutional behavior.

    • Paul Lucas

      I think R Scott Moxley would have been all over that of he had. I don’t think Todd worked on murder trials or trials of this nature. at least i don’t recall him ever speaking about them. To be honest I know Todd can be over zealous at times but I also believe he would not participate in this kind of behavior. at least not to the degree that T Rack has.

      • LFOldTimer

        The older a DA is and the longer a DA stays in office the more dirt he or she generally accumulates. Rack’s predecessor, Capizzi, left with a dark cloud over his head. Maybe at some point they just don’t care about their reputations with all the entitled pension benefits. Perhaps we should put an age limit on the DA. No one older than 55. Let the young bucks who have a future ahead of them fight it out. Send the old ones to the retirement home. That may help clean up the system. I know…I know…the law forbids it. At one time the law forbade people from drinking at certain water fountains too. Let’s face it. Sometimes laws and the people who make them are stupid.

  • Andrew Ian Murphy

    I must say that I agree with the LFOldTimer below, this behavior is very third world. It is what America has decended into these days….what a pity.

  • LFOldTimer

    Name a scandal. The BoS is always a day late and a dollar short. Watch them order more training or appoint an ad-hoc committee as a response. ha. The BoS had several chances to dress down Hutchens at their meetings but tuck their tails between their legs and do quite the opposite. They fawn all over her. I’m surprised Chair Spitzer didn’t step off the Dias and lay a big liplock on Hutchens when she declared that jailgate was no scandal! And she said that with a straight face too! ha. Now all the sudden the BoS are talking tough! ha. So what prompted this? The DOJ must be preparing to execute a few search warrants on some County offices. Leaks are notorious at that level of government. Grab your popcorn. More Kabuki Theater coming your way!!! Same ‘ol Same ‘ol. But nothing will happen to the main bad actors here. Lots of noize. No action. The cops that Judge Goethals said lied on the witness stand under oath or deliberately withheld material evidence are still collecting their big County salaries and pension. More ‘Equality Under the Law’ in your face! ha. They’ve taken the Fifth and refuse to testify (a basic job requirement) in their other criminal cases so heinous violents crooks are walking or getting sweet plea deals from Tony! ha. Christ almighty. What a clown circus. If this isn’t 3rd world behavior I’ll eat a manure sandwich.