Longtime Corruption Fighter Chosen as OC’s Law Enforcement Watchdog

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It took over a year, but it looks like Orange County will be getting a new law enforcement watchdog — a veteran prosecutor with a long history of fighting public corruption.

County supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to negotiate a contract with Gary Schons – who for 20 years led the criminal division of the state Attorney General’s office in San Diego – to head up the county’s Office of Independent Review (OIR).

In a career that’s spanned four decades, Schons has built a strong reputation for tackling corruption cases, including in Orange County.

Gary Schons

Best, Best & Krieger

Gary Schons

As a deputy attorney general in the 1980s, he helped prosecute and convict former OC supervisors Ralph Diedrich and Phil Anthony on bribery charges.

In 2005, Schons oversaw the state prosecution of Orange County sheriff’s Capt. Christine Murray, who was accused of illegally soliciting donations for then-Sheriff Mike Carona from fellow employees. She ultimately accepted a plea deal.

In that case, Schons filed court papers alleging that prominent OC political consultant Michael Schroeder tried to help cover up the allegedly illegal solicitations.

Schroeder worked as a high-level campaign consultant for both Carona and District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, and Schroeder’s former wife, Susan Kang Schroeder, has long been one of Rackauckas’ closest advisors. Michael Schroeder denied the cover-up claims.

Earlier this decade, Schons oversaw the state AG’s investigation of a wide-ranging corruption scandal involving a $102 million settlement between San Bernardino County officials and a consortium run by developer Jeff Burum. Three county officials and the developer are currently on trial in the so-called Colonies corruption case.

He comes back to Orange County as Rackauckas and Sheriff Sandra Hutchens remain mired in the years-long jailhouse snitch scandal. Their agencies are being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice, the state AG and the county grand jury for allegedly covering up an informants network that routinely violated the constitutional rights of criminal defendants.

While the OIR’s main mission is investigating potentially problematic practices within the sheriff’s department and DA’s office, along with other agencies, it’s not yet clear whether Schons will launch his own probe into the informants case.

But he is expected to examine the DA’s controversial DNA collection program, known as “spit and acquit.”

DA officials say it’s been instrumental in solving more serious crimes that they couldn’t have solved otherwise. But its structure has also sparked concerns about conflicts of interest, given that the DA’s office is collecting and analyzing the evidence it presents in court.

And a county crime lab scientist has testified under oath that the the DA’s office tried to manipulate DNA evidence to support its case against an innocent person. DA officials have disputed those claims.

In a statement Tuesday, Supervisor Todd Spitzer applauded his colleagues for choosing Schons.

“Investigations by the U.S. Department of Justice, the State Attorney General, and the OC Grand Jury underscore the need to make certain the Office of Independent Review is designed and properly managed with the utmost integrity,” said Spitzer, a political foe of Rackauckas’ who is widely believed to be planning to run for district attorney in 2018.

“Mr. Schons’ extensive experience in government law and unblemished reputation of integrity gives us every reason to believe he is the right person to organize the office so it will actually provide true oversight.”

Spitzer has worked with Schons in the past, with the supervisor hiring the former prosecutor in 2015 to seek advice from the state Fair Political Practices Commission about whether Spitzer had a conflict of interest in his ultimately successful effort to derail a Catholic Church senior housing project in North Tustin.

Spitzer was receiving over $10,000 a year from an investment firm run by one of the project’s main opponents, Ron King, who lives within a mile of the proposed project and had argued that it would make traffic worse on his street.

Based on a letter from Schons, the FPPC ultimately gave Spitzer the go-ahead to participate.

The letter, however, didn’t disclose that King was heavily involved in opposing the project, including leading fundraising for a neighborhood group that sued to stop the homes. County Counsel Leon Page later said that information wouldn’t have been relevant to the FPPC’s conflict of interest analysis.

No other supervisors commented on the appointment Tuesday, and Schons didn’t return phone messages seeking comment.

Schons started in the AG’s San Diego criminal division in 1976, and was eventually promoted to head the division in 1991, where he supervised 75 deputy attorneys general on cases that included public corruption prosecutions.

In 2011, he left the Attorney General’s Office to become a deputy district attorney and senior advisor for law and policy to San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis.

And from 2010 to 2016, he directed all disciplinary proceedings against California judges, as trial counsel for the state’s Commission on Judicial Performance.

In 2014, he joined the municipal law firm Best Best & Krieger and heads up its public integrity practice.

Just over a year ago, supervisors expanded the role of the OIR to reach beyond the sheriff’s department to include the District Attorney’s Office and other county agencies.

A few months later, in March 2016, longtime OIR director Stephen Connolly resigned amid complaints from supervisors that he wasn’t proactive enough. The office has had no staff since then.

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

  • Jacki Livingston

    This is factually wrong. I emailed Mr. Schons and he said he has not been hired by the county. I will forward the emails to you if you want, Norberto.

  • LFOldTimer

    So according to the blog Schons’ claim-to-fame police prosecution was back in 2005 when he prosecuted some cop for soliciting illegal campaign contributions for Carona? lol. Wow! Almost like prosecuting a shoplifter. I wonder what the plea deal was? 90 days of paid administrative leave?

    Was that Schon’s only cop prosecution during his entire legal career?

    That’s a relevant question since he’ll be overseeing OCSD.

    We need a CIVILIAN police oversight board. Not another insider lawyer who’s Spitzer’s friend.

    I still think R.Scott Moxley would make a GREAT OIR director. He’d sniff out corruption at OCSD in a NYC minute. But the BoS would never hire Moxley. The last thing they want is REAL oversight. Connolly proved that.

    • Debby Bodkin

      No doubt Moxley would clean up the filth in the OC but he doesn’t have a law degree….the OC Supervisors need a licensed attorney so they can recoup negligence damages from the County’s legal malpractice insurance when there is some type of “error in judgment” by the OIR. That is why private citizens will never have oversight in the OC–collecting negligence claims would not be an option. Sure wish the Feds would investigate the legal malpractice, premises liability, conflict of interest and workers compensation claims/payouts orchestrated by the OC Supervisors, DA Rackauckas and OC Sheriff. IMO, something smells big time in a County when absolutely no elected official and their supervised employees are never held accountable in civil and/or criminal courts. Lots of money is being made by many!

      • LFOldTimer

        Many cities in California have civilian police oversight boards that have been tremendously successful in reducing police misconduct. San Diego is just one of many. Those cities have functioned just fine legally. There are effective ways to oversee police conduct without hiring a single attorney to run the entire show. The supervisors don’t want civilians on the OIR because it would put OCSD under a microscope and actually result in effective oversight. They just hire lawyers like Connolly who act like window dressing while the fox has it’s way inside the hen house.

        There is no doubt that civilian police oversight boards work in California. The record speaks for itself. Do some research.

        • Debby Bodkin

          I am not against civilian oversight but it will never happen in OC. And in all honesty, how does the public know that Connolly failed his duty while the director of OC’s OIR? The OC Supervisors controlled all the info released to public and so did the OC Sheriff. Maybe Connolly did expose serious wrongdoing, especially as it relates to the John Derek Chamberlain beating death in OC jail on 10-5-06 and the OC Supervisors chose to pay Chamberlain’s father $600,000 to get rid of the scandal versus the public knowing the truth about OC law enforcement. Don’t you think it is strange that they paid George Chamberlain $600,000 almost immediately after a lawsuit was filed but yet Rackauckas never charged anyone involved with the tragedy, except of course, the easy target of charging the OC inmates?

          This is just a different point of view that may or may not reveal a coordinated effort to keep the truths from the public. IMO Connolly probably resigned because he didn’t want to take part in OC’s corrupt RICO conspiracy. I think Connolly could have a case of defamation against the OC Board of Supervisors for tainting his performance. Check Connolly’s CA State Bar registration …. Are the OC Supervisors still paying him to remain silent based on attorney-client privilege?

          Again, just expressing different insight; however, I would NEVER believe anything publicly stated by the OC Supervisors, OC Sheriff or DA Rackauckas. I look forward to watching who will throw who under the bus first…. and who will be the last man/woman standing in the OC?

          • LFOldTimer

            Connolly was reprimanded in public at least 3 times by the Board of Supervisors for not performing his duties in a satisfactory manner. Other supervisors publicly stated that they learned more about OCSD malfeasance from the OC Weekly than from the OIR and Stephen Connolly. How’s that for starters that Connolly failed in his duties as the OIR Director?

            Sure I think it’s strange that Rackauckas didn’t charge anyone who worked in the jail after the Chamberlain murder. But was I surprised? Nope. Why would I be?

            “IMO Connolly probably resigned because he didn’t want to take part in OC’s corrupt RICO conspiracy.”

            What a far-fetched notion. Connolly was Hutchen’s lapdog for 8 long years. No wonder she like the guy so much.

            I predict that Schons will be no different.

            The only effective oversight is civilian oversight. And the BoS would never go for that because they know from the experience of other cities that civilian oversight boards actually cleans up the dirt in police work.

            But real oversight would probably result if fewer and less generous campaign donations.

            Again, research it.

        • Debby Bodkin

          I have done years of research but appears http://www.voiceof.org prefers to delete posts concerning research findings of private citizens. Thanks for your input.

          • LFOldTimer

            Then if you’ve done your research you must know that civilian police oversight boards work very well. Because those are the facts.

  • Shirley L. Grindle

    Congratulations to Gary Schons – have talked with him many times over the past 20 years when he was with the AG’s office. I only hope he will take very seriously the problems with not only the District Atty, but also with the Social Services Agency and its contractors.

    • LFOldTimer

      Keep dreaming, Shirley!!!

      At one time I was an idealist too!

    • David Zenger

      The OIR has never had anything to do with the SSA.

    • Jacki Livingston

      Are you KIDDING ME? SSA? Puhleeze. They have the worst of the worst working there. The original gangstas, in that cesspool. This guy won’t do anything. I have boxes of evidence, files, emails, reports, printouts, patient casefolders, everything…no one at GJ, DA BoS or anywhere else (including VoC, ever wanted to see them). No one cares, and they are all corrupt and feeding at the same slimy trough.

  • OCservant_Leader

    This “Watch-Mouse” will be in the same position every County employee is in- how to do report widespread wrong-doing, Graft and outright crime within the Government?

    You can’t go to the BOS or any of their Appointees, because they are the ones doing it.

    It’s obviously career suicide if you reach out to the DA and if you contact the State or Feds – the first thing they do is contact the OC DA. You are screwed.

    They control your paycheck, your health insurance, your pension, your
    Iife.

    Just like the “Watch-Mouse” he will report what his bosses tell him.

    If he has other ideas – he will get the same lecture I got early in my career when I started to ask questions- a BOS-EA informed me “You work for the Board”.

    • Jacki Livingston

      It took me six years to get through chain of command, to the DA and board, and my personal and professional reputation were destroyed. Those selling drugs out of their desk, the same desks they “interview” tight skirted employees on, are making a hundred grand a year. The BoS members taking bribes from nursing home owners with links to organized crime are running for DA. I still have no approval for my pension, cannot get hired anywhere, thanks to the HR thugs, and regularly have OC sheriffs show up to threaten or intimidate me. This guy will do nothing. Just another mouthpiece to cover for the slime that runs this hellhole county.

      • OCservant_Leader

        You are one of many I know – but one of the few being vocal. I believe everything you have experienced and applaud your guts.

        It is appalling – that they left you to hang out to dry just because you did the right thing. This speaks volumes of this regime.

        If this new “watch mouse ” does anything except stop them from retaliating against whistleblowers…it would be an improvement.

        Hey – Contact me “watch mouse” Sir- if you want to know where the bodies are buried. I was a Manager for almost 20 years. I saw a-lot.

        • Jacki Livingston

          They never hired him. It is all a lie. I emailed him. He denied being hired by the county. They are liars.

          • OCservant_Leader

            Liars and more fake news eh?

            Maybe his price just went up when he realized the public saw through the set up.

            Why would a professional with any integrity – stain their resume with being attached to this corruption?

  • Paul Lucas

    Sounds good. I hope it is. And not a rubber stamp.

    • LFOldTimer

      Sounds good??? ha.

      Are you joking???

      • Paul Lucas

        Theres nothing inherently wrong about that. You dont like the results. Ok thats your cross to bear. Ive read his resume as far as it is listed in this article and this guy seems to be highly interested in accountability. also this was a unanimous vote so direct your ire to the other supes if you must. And as you know I have no qualms calling Todd out on his transgressions. But in this case I see none. Sorry I dont share your depth of jadedness.

        • LFOldTimer

          What would make Schon different from Stephen Connolly, Paul? Same church. He just sits in another pew.

          Why would you suddenly believe Spitzer after he has lied to us time and time again?

          Don’t you think CIVILIAN oversight would be the solution to keeping the police in check? Why another insider lawyer?

          Why would you trust another insider lawyer (who Spitzer has personally hired in the past) as the new watchdog?

          Why are you suddenly so trusting?

          And after all the organized crime we’ve witnessed in county government, why shouldn’t I be jaded?

          Thanks in advance for your response.

          • Paul Lucas

            You need a vacation or hot bath or something. Relax son. and see how it pans out.

          • LFOldTimer

            I bet you said the same thing when Stephen Connolly was hired back in 2008.

            How’d that work out 9 years later with OCSD & OCDA trampling all over constitutional rights with the use of illegal informants and turning OC into the laughing stock of the nation???

            Now you’re going to trust Spitzer’s hiring judgement after he’s already had Schons on his private payroll and is preparing to run for DA??? HA!

            While I’m taking a hot bath I suggest you go get your head examined!

          • Paul Lucas

            You’re pretty obsessed with my comments there son.

          • LFOldTimer

            I read your comments like I read any comment. But your comments are nothing to get obsessed over. I’ve noted that you’ve been hyper-critical of the way the BoS has managed the county and the lack of genuine oversight of the county executives. You’ve been particularly upset with the OCSD/OCDA scandals and the inequality under the law that has been forced down our throats. And I’m in full agreement with you on those concerns. I think it’s reached a crisis level.

            So I’m confused why you would be so critical of BoS management and judgement yet trust them to appoint yet another insider lawyer with prior connections to Spitzer to clean up the corruption and malfeasance that has grown out of control. Strange.

            Doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results is a failed strategy.

            And why call me “son”. How does that help the discussion?

          • Paul Lucas

            I looked at the guys creds and it honestly looks to me that he is not a rubber stamp or push over simple as that now please leave me alone

          • LFOldTimer

            Then you aren’t looking close enough.

          • verifiedsane

            Paul is one of status quo corruption guys who doesn’t give a flying duck about the infestation of corruption throughout OC government.

            Hey, the window dressing looks good, let’s just move along, because the is nothing to see here…

            This is very type of citizen apathy and ignorance to the evidenced reality that has allowed the criminal ruling class corruption to become a permanent & institutionalized of OC.

          • Paul Lucas

            Uh wrong dude.

          • OCservant_Leader

            Well said.

            And the public is easily manipulated – I think because they can’t fathom this kind of corruption.

            Nice play by BOS. They got the Offensive Coordinator from the opposing team who is paid (Nicely) to reveal the Investigator’s playbook.

            They can stay one step ahead and have probably already approved the Public PR spin package.

    • David Zenger

      The problem is both the arrangement AND the resume. This guy will be working for the highly politicized BoS and will be used by Sptizer for political purposes – it’s already started. Despite his early resume Schon is affiliated with a law firm that works for government agencies, i.e. a firm whose last priority is transparency and the real public interest.

      I suppose on the bright side the guy must be pushing 70, so he’s not looking for a resume building position.

      • LFOldTimer

        You’re absolutely correct, David.

        Spitzer’s puppet.

        Go look at who the city attorney of Bell, Ca. worked for when that scandal was exposed.

        Hopefully Paul will come around.

  • OCservant_Leader

    More like “Watch Mouse”. What is this guy going to tell his bosses who hired him and write his check? The design is flawed.

    Only an autonomous Citizen Watchdog with Subpeona powers can have any OVERSIGHT of this Board of Supervisors. Better yet. A Recall of this entrenched power-elite is the only solution.

    Everyone knows this. Is it Groundhog Day again?

    The Civil Rights Investigation will conclude that the OBVIOUS Conflict of Interst between the BOS, Sheriff, DA & Health Care Agency created the perfect storm for collusion and corruption.

  • verifiedsane

    The names may change, but the results will be the same. Just another board of supervisors hand selected PR lap dog, with no independence, powers, or authority. The more OC government surrounds themselves with their own cronies, the less the citizenry trust OC government.

  • Debby Bodkin

    This is GREAT news…… Mr Schon has received many reports about OC’s public corruption crimes while he was with the AG’s office since 2006. He ignored factual reports and documentation from me–guess it is time bring out all the reports made directly to Schons, especially those that reveal RICO patterns still in progress. Remember this is the man that investigated Rackauckas’ lost gun–Schoeder and Rackauckas must be celebrating with the Schons news. Schons could find many buried bodies in the OC but he won’t because he aided and abetted those early public corruption crimes in the OC.

    Congrats to the Supervisors for hiring another person that will continue the RICO crimes in the OC. This is pathetic!!

    • LFOldTimer

      Debby, did you really expect the supervisors to arrange for genuine oversight of the OC justice system, particularly with Spitzer on deck for a DA run? lol. He needs public safety endorsements to get elected. Do you think OCSD or their public union would endorse Spitzer if he hired a real watchdog? Do you think AOCDS would donate another $86,000 to a supervisor who insisted on real oversight of OCSD?

      I told you so. More of the same. This was a very easy prediction.

      The only way to effectively monitor OCSD is with a CIVILIAN oversight board. Many cities already have civilian boards in operation and boast great results in keeping the police powers in check. Google it. That’s the reason you’d never see one in the County of Orange where insider lapdogs are hired for show.

      I bet Spitzer, Hutchens, and T-Rack are high-fiving one another behind closed doors.

  • David Zenger

    The link referring to Diedrich and Anthony is wrong.

    Also I believe that Anthony fellow is currently on the OC Water District. Is that the right guy?

    • The relevant part in the LA Times article I linked to is a few paragraphs down: “A deputy attorney general in the special prosecutions unit, Schons had helped convict former Orange County supervisors Ralph Diedrich and Phil Anthony during bribery cases in the early 1980s.”

      And yep, that’s the same Phil Anthony who’s been on the water district board since 1981: http://www.ocwd.com/gwrs/steering-committee/philip-l-anthony/

      He was “indicted in 1976 and pled no contest to a misdemeanor count of laundering campaign
      funds,” according to a grand jury report: http://www.ocgrandjury.org/pdfs/2012_2013_reports/Corruption-in-OC04152013.pdf

      – Nick

      • Rivett

        I can’t view those links because the viglink redirect gets binned by my security settings. I know about viglink for monetizing links, and if you were linking to Amazon or something I could understand, but you ain’t getting any ad dosh from linking to the OC Grand Jury.

        • Thanks for letting me know – I pasted the links just as straight links without any kind of redirect. It looks like Disqus is creating a redirect link on its own; not sure how I can get rid of that. Ideas are welcome.

          – Nick

  • LFOldTimer

    Oh Christ. Another insider lawyer. ha!

    Say hi to the new lapdog in town. Same as the old lapdog. ha.

    The more things change the more they stay the same.

    We need a CIVILIAN POLICE OVERSIGHT BOARD!!! Not another insider lawyer with connections to the dirty political system!!!!

    More tax dollar waste!!! But watch the media support more FAKE OVERSIGHT!!!!