Deal for New County Law Enforcement Watchdog Nixed

A plan by Orange County supervisors to hire a former state prosecutor to be the county’s law enforcement watchdog has been scuttled.

On Jan. 24, the supervisors voted unanimously to engage Gary W. Schons — a lawyer with decades of experience handling political corruption cases for the Attorney General’s Office — to head the county’s Office of Independent Review (OIR).

But this week, Riverside-based Best, Best & Krieger,  Schons’ law firm, notified the county counsel that it was nixing the deal due to concerns that Schons’ work with the county could create conflict of interest issues with its many other municipal clients.

This means the supervisors, who were criticized for taking nearly a year to fill the controversial post, are again back at square one.

Schons, reached at the law firm’s San Diego office, declined comment, referring inquiries to the group’s home office. A firm spokeswoman declined comment.

For more than 20 years until 2011, Schons was chief of the criminal division of the state Attorney General’s Office in San Diego.

During that time, he oversaw a number of high-profile prosecutions in Orange County — including the conviction of two supervisors in the 1980s, and in 2005 the conviction of a sheriff’s captain for illegally soliciting donations for then-Sheriff Mike Carona, who was convicted in federal court of jury tampering.

But the timing of the supervisors’ vote came as a complete surprise to Schons and the firm’s hierarchy, prompting the review that ultimately led to the deal being scratched, sources say.

The law firm is one of the oldest in the region and has many municipal clients in Orange County — such as Santa Ana, San Clemente, San Juan Capistrano, Newport Beach and special districts, like water agencies.

While the board typically does vote on such hires, the fact the public action was taken abruptly before a pact with attorney’s law firm raises questions.

Andrew Do, vice chairman of the board, didn’t respond to a request for comment; Supervisor Todd Spitzer also couldn’t be reached.

The OIR’s main mission is to explore liability issues from any potentially problematic practices within the sheriff’s department, DA’s office and certain other agencies.

Last March, veteran OIR Director Stephen Connolly, resigned amid criticism of his oversight performance.

There was discussion that Connolly didn’t adequately inform the supervisors about the evolving informant scandal that arose in 2014 in the criminal trial of Scott Evans Dekraai, who in 2011 shot his wife and seven others dead in a Seal Beach beauty salon.

Dekraai’s public defender, Scott Sanders, uncovered a vast jailhouse informants network run by sheriff’s deputies and DA prosecutors that violated the constitutional rights of criminal defendants. This prompted more than a half-dozen other convictions for murder and/or major offenses to be overturned.

District Attorney Tony Rackauckas’ office is now under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice for an alleged pattern and practice of violating defendant civil rights via the abuse of informants.

The state Attorney General’s Office also is conducting a criminal investigation into allegations several sheriff’s deputies and a deputy district attorney provided false testimony during a special hearing in the Dekraai’s case; where he pleaded guilty in the spring of 2014.

Supervisors expanded the review office in December 2015 to include examining “systemic issues and specific incidents” at the District Attorney’s Office; and for the office to have the same access to confidential records as the county counsel.

Rackauckas’ office has said the supervisors’ review office can look at records and make recommendations to supervisors, but that supervisors don’t have the authority to change how the DA’s office is run.

Please contact Rex Dalton directly at rexdalton@aol.com

  • Paul Lucas

    Park an FBI team in there. Thats the only remedy that will actually work

    • LFOldTimer

      Not so fast. If after the civil investigation of the illegal informant scandal the feebies conclude all that’s needed to fix the problem is a hand slap and more training – that’ll be it for me. I’ll lose whatever confidence I have left in the integrity of the justice system. We’ve lost the mainstream media as a line of defense. The politicians are worthless. The local oversight agencies have been willfully asleep at the wheel for years. If the feebies let us down….it’s pretty much over. Let’s pray that all the apples in the barrel haven’t gone bad.

      • verifiedsane

        I believe the people are hoping against hope that the FBI & DOJ is going to step in and do anything other than rubber stamp the status quo. Our no justice system from top to bottom has been so politicized and corrupted that we’re literally doomed to an ominous fate.

        • LFOldTimer

          My percentage odds on the feebies actually holding the guilty parties accountable for the damage they’ve done to the justice system is down around 15%. After they gave Hillary a pass it soiled their credibility in my eyes forever.

          And now we have judicial tyranny with Federal district court judges defying Federal law and the US Constitution by claiming the President cannot prohibit foreigners from targeted nations from entering the country in the interest of national security – after Jimmy Carter, George W. Bush and Barack H. Obama all did it without any judicial resistance. Not one Federal judge challenged any of them. Not one protest at the airports either. This is purely a retaliatory political move against Trump by the equivalent of pouting adults throwing child-like tantrums. To h*ll with the black lettered law! Let selective anarchy by the elite prevail! /sarc.

          We’re screwed as a nation.

  • Ed Romero

    The last thing the Board of Supervisor’s and Top Management Employees want is anyone SPYING on them. They want to retain the Good Old Days when if you got arrested for Drunk Driving all you had to do was make a phone and everything was taken care, that’s if you belonged to the $5,000’s a Year Club or were friends with that those corrupt Drug Dealing, Marijuana Smoking, Cocaine Snorting Employees led by that corrupt Chief Probation Officer.

  • verifiedsane

    More county supervisors nasty slight of hand…now the search begins for a new lap dog that will go along with their backroom corruption and do their cover up bidding…same old story…no County, DA, or Sheriff oversight….the Ruling Oligarchy has no shame, and zero accountability.

  • LFOldTimer

    How could 5 people in charge of a $6B budget be this clueless? Wouldn’t it seem they’d iron out the preliminaries before voting unanimously to bring Schons on board? And they accuse Klubnikin of wasting their time? Is there anybody worried about a judgment deficit on the 5th floor other than me?

    Maybe we’ll see some divine intervention to convince the brain trusts to try a new oversight method besides hiring one insider lawyer to run the whole kit-n-caboodle. Since that method already failed for 8 years let’s try something else. Carona turned OC into a laughing stock. Now Hutchens has done it.

    How ’bout building an oversight committee with former OC Grand Jurors? Give them the same $50/day stipend. Start with the 2013 Grand Jurors who weren’t afraid to step on toes. Oversight boards are no place for milquetoasts. Either hire people who are serious about monitoring the police or nix the idea completely. Stop wasting our tax dollars.

    Many California cities have very effective civilian police oversight boards. They work great. Pick a model and replicate it. It’s easy. Why reinvent the wheel? Think about the community for once instead of police endorsements and campaign donations during election season.

  • David Zenger

    Nice diversion. Sucked up a year.

    • OCservant_Leader

      “Diversion-Gate” – yup

      This was a scam – day one. This BOS would NEVER give anyone with real ethics access behind the Orange Curtain. And no professional in their right mind would stain their reputation associating with this corruption.

      This baffoonery circus has got to stop.

    • John Claxton

      Nailed it!