Santana: Orange County’s Criminal Justice Complex in Crisis

Ana Venegas/Orange County Register

Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders, left, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, and Sheriff Sandra Hutchens during a public forum on the jailhouse informants scandal.

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Talk about burying the lede…

Early last week, right on the heel of Monday night’s elections for the OCGOP Central Committee, rumors started flying that County Supervisor Todd Spitzer and his chief of staff Jeff Lalloway, also an Irvine city councilman, had split ways.

By Wednesday morning, media reports confirmed Lalloway was out.

This was a guy who just four months ago abruptly left his own divorce law practice and triggered a firestorm of controversy within the county government as he came over – at the unprecedented annual paycheck of $190K – to head Spitzer’s county office.

Spitzer, in what turned out be a telling moniker of political loyalty, essentially booted his then-chief of staff George Cardenas when he brought on Lalloway.

Cardenas is generally well regarded as a technocrat and seen as competent (note he was immediately hired by County Supervisor Shawn Nelson even though Spitzer reportedly fought the appointment, ironically arguing it presented a conflict).

Now, Lalloway and Spitzer both argue it was all just a bad fit.

Lalloway doesn’t like the “weeds” of policy as much as Spitzer is the official line.

Who knows what the truth really is here?

What is clear is that last Friday, Spitzer’s office sent out a press release, with the lede announcing that the latest victim to sit in the hot seat as Spitzer’s chief of staff will be current-press secretary Melanie Eustice.

How long will she last?

To date, in just over one term, Spitzer has gone through five chiefs of staff, Mike Johnson, Martha Ochoa, George Cardenas, Lalloway and now Eustice. His office also has seen significant general staff turnover.

That’s the real lede.

I don’t think any of Spitzer’s colleagues has switched out a chief of staff slot in the past five years. It’s a rare thing.

Note that Spitzer has amassed a million-dollar campaign account in order to take over the Orange County District Attorney’s office next year.

Watching these kinds of management and people skills must be terrifying to deputy district attorneys, already working in a deeply politicized environment and now looking to this guy as their next potential boss.

Now, it’s no secret that I’ve personally had serious disagreements with Spitzer and the county counsel’s office over their flawed and politicized reading of California’s public records laws and we are in court over those differences.

More and more, I have witnessed our county government going off the rails, veering into a sustained lack of respect for the rule of law, indeed a constant bending of the law – especially when it comes to public records.

That is why we have invested our own preciously limited dollars, defending First Amendment access rights here in Orange County.

We will have our day in court this coming March and remain confident in our case.

Reading our news pages this past week – following another great dispatch from Rex Dalton inside the local courtroom of Judge Thomas M. Goethals in the ever-evolving jailhouse snitch scandal – I found it noteworthy that we are not alone in questioning how the county and top law enforcement officials handle records as well as their overall commitment to transparency.

It’s a pretty low bar in Orange County.

Judge Goethals has been dealing with massive stonewalling by both District Attorney Tony Rackauckas and Sheriff Sandra Hutchens for several years now in the ongoing case of Scott Dekraai — who pleaded guilty in 2014 to killing his wife and seven other people in a 2011 shooting at a Seal Beach beauty salon.

Goethals is clearly getting tired of the traditional OC game of stall.

According to Dalton’s dispatch, last week in court “Goethals read emails in two cases describing how sheriff deputies, an assistant sheriff and a Santa Ana homicide detective were involved in planning to deploy informants to secure compromising statements from inmates — noting this is exactly what the prosecution/sheriff teams repeatedly testified never occurred.

“My God,” exclaimed Goethals, about one email apparently dated November 2011, the month after Dekraai’s slaughter. “What’s going on over there? If that’s not a smoking gun, I don’t know what is.”

Dekraai’s case continues to shed a damning light on systematic attempts by Orange County’s top law enforcement officers to violate the U.S. Constitution they swore to uphold.

Hutchens (remember our last one, Mike Carona, was indicted on corruption-related charges in 2008) is once again at odds with local courts — close to facing a contempt order, even fines — over lack of disclosure in a criminal case.

It seems our county government, which is just now arising out of the financial ashes from the 1994 bankruptcy, is now watching over a second bankruptcy, one arising out of its criminal justice complex.

Yet this bankruptcy impacts much more than our pocketbooks.

And much worse, this bankruptcy can’t be repaid or settled because all of our civil liberties, not to mention who knows how many criminal cases, have all been irrevocably compromised.

And worst of all, scores of criminals who should have been prosecuted will now go free because of this scandal.

None of this seems to bother county supervisors – who clearly share Lalloway’s disinterest in the work of the county government but are, unlike him, increasingly expert at sticking around and padding their paychecks, all while staying quiet and becoming Olympians at ribbon-cutting ceremonies.

And just like three decades ago, they are adept at avoiding oversight.

We should probably give Lalloway credit for being the only OCGOP official in recent memory to get a job on the fifth floor of the Orange County Hall of Administration and immediately leave.

  • KatConwell-Doyle

    Last paragraph: LOL- ain’t it the truth!!

  • verifiedsane

    Don’t hold your breath for the Feds to step in to do anything accept to protect the ruling class…The Feds will just create the illusion of an investigation until it becomes old news…our justice system and government are so corrupt, broken, and criminal that we are no longer a nation of laws, or do we have equal justice for all. Our Constitutional Republic is already gone; it just hasn’t been reported to the people & citizenry.

    http://www.ocregister.com/articles/thomas-741972-federal-civil.html

  • Think the FBI will ever take notice? No…….guess not……

    • OCservant_Leader

      What do you think Judge Goethals will do?

      They are baiting the Judge – they don’t think he has the guts to hold the Sheriff AND the CEO, CoCo and Board of Supervisors in Contempt of Court.

      I say – Call their bluff!

      They destroyed records for a criminal subpoena. Thats bad. That’s a Felony. They will lose their Pensions. This is huge.

      Where’s CNN?

      • LFOldTimer

        What, you expect CNN (Crap Not News) to report the truth about corruption?

        Good luck with that.

        Wolf Blitzer is the biggest joke on TV.

        • verifiedsane

          Does anyone still watch those fake news propaganda hacks…wasn’t CNN integrated into the Cartoon Network a long time ago.

          • justanon

            Says the two Fox news devotees. Hillarious hypocrisy!

  • verifiedsane

    All this institutionalized government corruption/criminality and no one is doing anything about it…the Feds are just slow walking this investigation into obscurity, The State AG and Sacramento has stuck their heads in the sand. The Public has lost trust and confidence in our entire justice system and government representation. Anarchy is now on the horizon.

  • OCservant_Leader

    Aha! Just confirmed the snitch tank was in the medical unit – according to OCR scandal timeline.

    Now this is all making sense. The Board of Supervisors personally oversaw all operations of that unit — because it was “special”. They personally hand picked all personnel and nothing went through normal chains…IT, HR, Records, Contracts.

    I assumed it was because of the $100 Million Dollar -Pharmacy contract that the Executives got kick-backs on? It was all top secret. EA’s only. Why was the BOS so interested in Health Care?

    When I think back over past 10- 15 years…all the oddities are starting to make sense.

    Isn’t it a conflict of interest to lure those accused of crimes to “fake” medical treatment – into a “snitch tank” all managed by the DA, Sheriff, & HealthCare Agency under the Direction of the Board???

    This is really, really bad.

  • OCservant_Leader

    BINGO- Norberto has hit this scandal right on the money!

    The ugly truth is – this scandal in our OC Justice System (which is significant) and the doubling down by the 5th Floor in their latest scam to approve a Records Destruction Policy while in the midst of a Court Subpoena is not only Brazen but is just the tip of the iceberg of Civil Rights Violations with regards to Public Records across all Agencies.

    Each and every tactic used in this case is common OC SOP to keep the public OUT of this organized crime family’s wrongdoings.

    I’ve seen it all. Try to get HR records manufactured to keep their family in power, or data bases of ALL contracts showing – double / triple payments to same insider for decades for programs that are shutdown or real estate records showing Public Works Managers actually own the County Buildings or outrageous unchecked payments to double dipping retirees for Zero work.

    Don’t get me started on the sytemactic withholding and destruction of records of any client or family or user OR Employee of County Services who are outraged at below standard services.

    Judge Goethals MUST punish the lawbreakers and start SOME accountability ! These crooks are no different than those in orange jumpsuits. They took a gamble, broke the law & now we need justice.

    Politics is local. We can clean up this corruption – starting NOW!

    • Carol

      The scandals in the County are getting worse and worse. This really does need to be cleaned up. There is no accountability or credibility with these people and their shady dealings.

      • OCservant_Leader

        When I read the CEO, CoCo and Board of Supes approved a “Destruction of Records” policy during the Criminal Court Subpeana of Sheriff’s records – I said … Oh h*ll No! I am outraged!

  • Paul Lucas

    The supes arent bothered because they have zero accountability. Nothing happens to them in the worse case scenario. So why feel compelled to act when it provides no photo opportunities? Dear God?! What would it take to get Goethals to run for DA?

  • LFOldTimer

    The biggest victim in the OC justice system scandals is public confidence in our local LE agencies. Many OC residents rank OCSD at par with Tijuana Municipal PD.

    A full year after the OC jail escape we still haven’t had basic questions answered. Where did the power tools come from that cut through 1/2 inch steel bars? How were they smuggled into the jail? The jail break was apparently executed in piecemeal fashion over months by the inmates. Are you telling me that the guards failed to see or hear anything unusual with power tools cutting through steel? ha. I thought all those problems got fixed following the John Chamberlain scandal and after the supervisors appointed “Change Agent” Hutchens.

    What’s most alarming is that the supervisors haven’t called for an outside investigation of the jail break. OCSD internally investigated their own incompetence and we know how that works out. Can you say whitewash?

    The supervisor should demand public answers from OCSD. But they won’t. Don’t forget. AOCDS contributed $86,000 to Do’s reelection. And there’s more where that came from.

    The fact that those cops involved in the illegal informant scandal haven’t been terminated is laughable. Now they refuse to perform their basic job functions and testify in their criminal cases. ha. Violent felons are getting their convictions overturned as a result. New trials are being granted and their sentences are getting sliced and diced w/ sweet plea deals.

    And the supervisors won’t even publicly acknowledge what’s going on. Dumb, dumber and dumbest.

    In the meantime, the county’s reputation has turned to manure.

    Hopefully the DOJ and the OC Grand Jury won’t whitewash their investigations. They are our final hope for justice. Don’t look for any from the Hall of Administration.

    • David Zenger

      “The fact that those cops involved in the illegal informant scandal haven’t been terminated is laughable.”

      Didn’t they commit perjury? You or I would have been whisked off to Theo Lacy, slam, bang, one-third remittance of sentence for good behavior. Our feet wouldn’t have touched the ground.

  • Allan Bartlett

    Well said Norberto.

  • David Zenger

    “None of this seems to bother county supervisors – who clearly share Lalloway’s disinterest in the work of the county government but are, unlike him, increasingly expert at sticking around and padding their paychecks, all while staying quiet and becoming Olympians at ribbon-cutting ceremonies.”

    Priceless.

    • OCservant_Leader

      HA! This is a Gem! And so true!

      They have NO interest in doing the job they are paid to do. You can’t find a meeting of the minds – up or down the chain. Not one.

      I was pretty idealistic – and was determined to convince them – good government management IS in their interests. Nope. Next.

      As Managers we worked for the Campaigns. Period.

      I’m sad to say -The “Family” has turned OC County Government into a joke.