DA Tony Rackauckas Defends His Prosecutors’ Handling of Informants

Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas during his opening statement in the trial of Fullerton police officers involved in the beating death of Kelly Thomas. (Pool photo by the Orange County Register)

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Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas Tuesday stepped up his defense of prosecutors accused of misusing jailhouse informants and withholding evidence, saying the rulings against his office came from “one judge” who allowed an extensive search through cases that “had nothing to do with” the trial he was presiding over.

Rackauckas, in a live radio interview with KFI-AM host Bill Handel, acknowledged Judge Thomas Goethals’ 2015 ruling – which kicked the DA’s office off the county’s largest-ever mass murder case – was the first time in his nearly 20 years as DA that a case was taken from his office and handed to the state Attorney General.

Handel said “that says a lot about…how this case was handled, and leadership.”

Rackauckas disagreed.

“Now wait – does it? Does it really? I mean look…[we have] a hundred attorneys all the time, in, in trial, in cases with 50 different judges. And, uh, so we’ve had trouble with one judge,” Rackauckas said.

“And that one judge has uh, has made these various rulings. And so, uh – you know, for you to say, ‘Wow this is – this is all, uh, uh, talks about how you handled the case,’ I really – I really disagree with that.

“I’ve gone back, and I’ve looked at how this case was handled.”

“And you’re okay with it?” Handel interjected.

“I think – I can see a mistake or two,” Rackauckas replied. “But nothing– nothing, not even close to these salacious arguments, or salacious accusations that we’re hearing.”

Asked why he agreed to be interviewed by 60 Minutes about informants in the middle of an investigation, Rackauckas said it was his job to stand up for his staff when they’re being accused of wrongdoing.

“We have a lot of great people working in the District Attorney’s Office – honest, hard-working investigators and attorneys. And they’re being accused of a lot of wrongdoing, and it think it’s up to me to be there to stand up for them and to answer those questions,” Rackauckas said.

The DA’s office and Sheriff’s Department’s are under investigation by at least three agencies over the use of informants: the U.S. Justice Department, California Attorney General’s Office, and the Orange County Grand Jury.

For its investigation, the Grand Jury hired former U.S. Attorney Andrea Ordin and two former state Attorney General lawyers to “investigate and present evidence.”

Rackauckas’ remarks are among his most extensive public comments since Goethals ruled the DA’s office had engaged in widespread misconduct involving informants, including running an illegal jailhouse informants network and illegally withholding evidence from defendants.

Goethals wasn’t alone in his ruling. His decision was upheld by a state appeals court, which issued a blistering assessment of the DA office’s handling of informants and evidence disclosure.

The unanimous three-justice ruling in November found the DA’s office participated “in a covert [informants] program to obtain statements from represented defendants in violation of their constitutional rights, and to withhold that information from those defendants in violation of their constitutional and statutory rights.”

“The magnitude of the systemic problems cannot be overlooked,” said the appeals court ruling, which was written by the court’s presiding justice, Kathleen E. O’Leary.

It also defended Goethals’ handling of hearings that brought to light much of the evidence of alleged wrongdoing.

“The court recused the OCDA only after lengthy evidentiary hearings where it heard a steady stream of evidence regarding improper conduct by the prosecution team. To suggest the trial judge prejudged the case is reckless and grossly unfair” the appeals ruling states. “These proceedings were a search for the truth.”

On Tuesday, Rackauckas seemed to criticize those hearings, saying Goethals went on an extensive search through unrelated cases.

“In this particular case, this hearing went off on – like a long, uh, search in all of these different cases, had nothing to do with the Dekraai case. And then – and then – and then we get these rulings,” Rackauckas said.

Later in the interview, he added: “We took the [Dekraai] informant off the table. We agreed, we’re not going to use that informant for any purpose, uh, not offer his testimony or anything about him…to the jury. The judge, uh, went ahead and continued with the motion, however, and searching through all kinds of other cases. Lots of other cases, primarily gang cases.”

A jailhouse informant was used to gather information from Dekraai, even though Dekraai had an attorney and already confessed to shooting and killing his ex-wife and seven other people in 2011 at a Seal Beach beauty salon. Under a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, it is illegal for prosecutors to send informants to gather information about defendants who are represented by a lawyer.

Rackauckas also described Goethals’ basis for removing his office from the Dekraai trial as “far removed” from the case.

“[The judge] claimed that he couldn’t trust us to properly present evidence that would – that might, uh, tend to be exonerating to Dekraai. But…those decisions that were being made are – were, uh, far – far removed from anything actually going on in the – in the Dekraai case.”

Handel noted Goethals’ ruling found misconduct in the Dekraai case. The judge, he said, wrote that “the evidence demonstrates that some of those agents have habitually ignored the law over an extended period of time to the detriment of this defendant.”

“This is a lot more than just, ‘there was conflicts’ ” Handel said, referring to Rackauckas’ earlier statement that Goethals was alleging a conflict of interest between the DA and Sheriff’s Department. “There is out-and-out accusations that you guys just blew it.”

Rackauckas took issue with that.

“No, the only thing that [Goethals] found that…actually he used to reverse the case was this – was this idea that he had of a conflict. But understand that – that uh, that these statements are not – are not, uh, in – even in relation to the Dekraai case,” Rackauckas.

Rackauckas also disputed Handel’s description of the Dekraai case – in which eight people were murdered at the Seal Beach nail salon in the county’s deadliest mass killing – as one of the most significant cases the DA has handled.

“This is probably the biggest case in 20 years. Or one of the biggest ones, and off it goes!” Handel says, referring to the DA being kicked off the case.

“We’ve had hundreds of murder cases,” Rackauckas replied.

“Not like this,” Handel said.

“We’ve had hundreds of murder cases, and we’ve had a lot of – we’ve had multiple-murder cases, and we’ve had violent gang cases,” Rackauckas replied.

“Not like this,” Handel repeated.

Rackauckas appeared on Handel’s show in response to an interview last week with the DA’s chief political rival, Supervisor Todd Spitzer, who has requested a federal takeover of the DA’s office and is expected to run for DA next year.

Handel began his interview with Rackauckas by acknowledging he has a personal relationship with Spitzer going back 35 years, when Spitzer worked as a screener for Handel’s show.

During the interview, Rackauckas leveled a new accusation against a blue-ribbon committee he appointed, which looked into informant practices and found “a failure of leadership” at the DA’s office contributed to the informant problems. The panel also found that some prosecutors have a problematic “win at all costs mentality.”

“That’s a tough one, that these are your people that you” put on this panel, Handel said.

“Tell you what, I was disappointed” about the blue ribbon committee, Rackauckas replied.

“They did not even look into the accusations, the kind of salacious accusations that you’re hearing,” Rackauckas said. “They didn’t look into anything about uh, about the basis for any of these things…it was just strictly, uh, they went by, uh, the various, uh, things that were being alleged and heard and talked about.”

Rackauckas added that the panel made recommendations for changes, and “we followed, pretty much, those recommendations” including fixing leadership problems.

“As far as that leadership thing is concerned, I think, looking back and seeing, uh, uh, what was going in the gang unit, uh, I think there were – there were some – there were some issues there. And, uh, those have all been, those have all been taken care of. Those are – those have – have completely, uh, uh, been resolved.”

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

  • Diya

    The DA’s office refused to investigate Lexi Dillon’s case where the evidence of child sex abuse was overwhelming. It’s a shame!!

  • richard jorgensen

    Don’t be too harsh on Rackauckas. Honestly, Rackauckas’ recent confusion and inexplicable statments to the press reminds me of Muhammad Ali’s very last fight against Trevor Berbick in the Bahamas in 1981. Everyone in the stadium knew he had absolutely no business in the ring, except for Ali. At this point, everyone in the DA’s office knows that Rackauckas has no business in a courtroom (or running a DA’s office), except for Rackauckas. It is more sad than anything.

    At his age, it is probably hard for him to keep things straight. Based upon his recent trial record and the complete lack of control he has over his office, i bet his ongoing incompetence is more about him trying to hide the fact that he has missed a step or two (or three or four) for the last several years, as opposed to him trying to intentionally break laws. Between all the time he spends napping, running to the urinal, and trying to regulate his bowel movements, that does not leave a whole bunch of time for him to effectively run one of the largest law firms in the country (the OC DA’s office).

    Rackauckas, enjoy your noon nap, and don’t let these mean people upset you. Everything will be OK.

  • ocrino

    To all you liberal whiners, and conservative whiners, who cry about the current DA This DA has saved lives outside the DA office. He has done more for Orange County in his 14 years than you have done in a lifetime
    “GRIP of Orange County Angels Do guardian angels exist? In Orange County, they take a multi-faceted, community-focused approach to protecting kids from gangs. Orange County is home to over 700 street gangs. In our poorest neighborhoods, children are vulnerable to gang involvement. “Gang recruitment starts at an early age—eight to twelve years old,” says District Attorney Tony Rackauckas. Tracy Miller, Assistant District Attorney, explains, “gangs offer these kids quick cash, structure with rules, and a sense of belonging. Things they’re not getting elsewhere.” To combat this pipeline into gangs, the District Attorney’s office and Anaheim Police Department formed the Gang Reduction Intervention Partnership, or “GRIP.” 2017 marks the tenth anniversary of GRIP’s powerful, helping hand. GRIP has steered over 10,000 students away from gangs, and into productive lives.”

    http://www.ocbar.org/Portals/0/communications/ocl_presidentspage/201705presidentspage.pdf

    YOU KNOW NOTHING ABOUT TONY RACKAUCKAS, THE MAN, THE DA.

    • verifiedsane

      Should we prefix your comment with a clarification that it is sponsored by the reelect the embarrassing criminal political parasite DA Tony Rackauckas committee?

      Talk about a bucket load of laughable apologist propaganda hogwash excrement Spartacus is sadly attempting to dump upon the VofOC comment section readers 🙂

      • SPARTACUS

        Sure if we can prefix your comments that its just the opinions of a jackass. Sure.

        • verifiedsane

          keep changing your screen name Homie…definitely makes a person wonder if you’re just another Rackauckas illegal jail house snitch for hire….

          • SAhomie

            At least people don’t have to wonder if your just another liberal jackass. That’s a given.

          • verifiedsane

            LMAO…..”Liberal”…..welcome to the VofOC twilight zone….alien invasion soon to follow…. 🙂

  • ocrino
  • ocrino

    Its pretty pathetic reading these comments. Of course they play well on this website. Here is an apology to all of the DA’s family for these Kathy Griffin like remarks. These people are sick. It probably makes them feel like “a great liberal avenger” saying this crap. They make themselves out to be the great defenders of the constitution and justice. Right! So while all these “know-it-alls” go on with their holier than thou critiques and lives, riding their motorcycles, holding their protest rallies, explaining and giving their expertise on findings and statements by a dishwater blue ribbon panel, a judge, whose son purportedly applied to the DA office and was turned down probably cause he wasn’t qualified and of course the liberal California appellate court, the DA lives his life with the “spectre of death” hanging over his life, his family and his loved ones because of the criminals and nasty people he has put behind bars. He has had to deal with Interpol on some of the nastiest criminals on the planet, the FBI and every law enforcing agency in the world…AND he has had to oversee about 300 employees in his department….men and women from every facet in life with all the trials and tribulations that come with life. Yes, the DA has to manage that also. So the DA has to keep the cities in Orange County safe, protect and enhance the opportunities of his employees and recognize their daily demands. That must of been tough when Spitzer was there. Spitzer took 2 “personal timeouts” rumored to be because he couldn’t handle the stress. Sure would like to know if he was or is taking any meds. He seems to be bipolar. So the DA has to deal with all that and yet he has to see this crap from people whose biggest concern in life is if their motorcycle will make it to Cooks Corner or will I lose enough weight to attend my 30 year high school re-union. All I can say is that his employees love working for him. The County of Orange loves him, they re-elected him 4 times and you Spitzer supporting people should think twice about supporting a bipolar candidate whose claim to fame is that he arrested a “bible toting preacher” with his gun and handcuffs because he looked at Todd’s napkin ominously which had in essence a butter knife as a possible weapon. Todd Spitzer=Super Cop. All preachers and pastors beware.

    • verifiedsane

      Spartacus need to join Ed Romero with their Drug Dealing, Marijuana Smoking, Cocaine Snorting Racist GOP Lesbians at the OC Probation Department testimonials….Maybe they can team up to write fantasy conspiracy blog together on the dark web…

      The many citizen critics of Tony “The Criminal DA” RACKAUCKAS have based their opinions upon his actions, the evidence, his public statements, lack of leadership, and his many documented failures. This in no way constitutes an endorsement or defence of the disingenuous self serving BoS and dirty political animal opportunist Todd “The Toad” Spitzer… 🙂

      • SAhomie

        Vaginasane that sounds good. Teamwork is always good. Maybe you and your partner C. Jenner can team up for …..who knows….for sure you will be comfortable on your knees or bent over…..your a natural…bon appetit……you “guys” are made for each other…ha

        • verifiedsane

          Once again, SAhomie’s unimaginative spectacle of spewing commentary &
          unmitigated ignorance is only rivaled by their moronic unpolished
          vulgarity….

          Are you currently employed as Tony “the toothless Tiger” Racketeer’s PR and damage control coordinator? 🙂

          • SAhomie

            Ha…toothless tiger….fits you better. Is that what C. Jenner calls you? you must be pretty popular in the liberal circles. There is no doubt you have a kneepad endorsement and model pearl necklaces. Your such an idiot. No one likes your kind. Tell Caitlyn hi when your mouth isn’t full. I am sure your dancecard and mouth are always full. Bon Appetit……

          • verifiedsane

            It appears that you are experiencing some serious sexual identity issues & confusion to go along with your vulgar ignorance….I can only suggest that you sign up for a human sexuality course at OCC to work through some of your deep seated anger issues by some self directed immersion in opposing view points.

            The only societal antidote we have available today to combat your kind of cantankerous ignorance is the flicking hope of an infusion of educational enlightenment. 🙂

  • John Claxton

    So let’s see, you have the Blue Ribbon committee, the Grand Jury, judge Goethals, the Appellate Court – 3 judge panel, all saying the DA’s office is in shambles. The DA goes on a nationally syndicated radio show and removes all doubt that he’s a complete buffoon!

    • LFOldTimer

      I sense we’ll see another replay of Lee Baca all the way to the slammer.

      “I’m right and everybody else is wrong.”

      It wouldn’t even shock me to see another Alzheimer’s defense.

  • Bob Brock

    I can’t believe Rackauckas doesn’t resign now and just fade away, although I guess his legacy could not be further tarnished. Once the credibility of the office has been shattered to the extent that it has, it cannot be rebuilt. The only fix at this point is change of leadership. Until then, the wound will continue to fester.

    • LFOldTimer

      Anybody but Spitzer.

      Steve Rocco over Spitzer.

      • Bob Brock

        #Freetheketchup

    • He’s too stupid to realize how much of an idiot he looks like.

  • RyanCantor

    “I think – I can see a mistake or two,” Rackauckas replied. “But nothing– nothing, not even close to these salacious arguments, or salacious accusations that we’re hearing.”

    Versus

    “The court recused the OCDA only after lengthy evidentiary hearings where it heard a steady stream of evidence regarding improper conduct by the prosecution team. To suggest the trial judge prejudged the case is reckless and grossly unfair” the appeals ruling states. “These proceedings were a search for the truth.”

    Orange County needs a new DA.

  • Paul Lucas

    Last eek he was denying the existence of a snitch tank now hes defending it? Schitzo much there T Rack?

    • ocrino

      So, you feel comfortable with trashing the DA but have no problem of your pic with killer Ted Kennedy? Many believe Teddy boy strangled her first then ran in typical liberal fashion. Teddy should have been strung up for that.

  • Rationalist

    Tony, I don’t think that that word that you use (salacious) means what you think it means.

    • He had to ask Susie the Dragon Lady how to spell it.

      • ocrino

        Wow. What a classless guy. Typical liberal democrat. Name calling a woman in the DA’s office. I have seen pics of Susan….and a pic of your significant other….if anyone is a Dragon Lady its yours. See how that feels.

        • If you knew anything about me, you’d know I’m not much of a liberal. And, you should know classless since you just disrespected someone yourself. Must be a tough life to defend lowlife politicians and elected officials.

          • SPARTACUS

            don’t need to know anything about you. Your words tell everything. Next thing you will say is that you are a conservative constitutional defender who just likes to act like a liberal. I just thought I would throw some of your name calling back at you since that’s what liberals do.

          • verifiedsane

            Tony!!! is that you having a DA public tantrum again…?

          • SAhomie

            Kathy is that you……you spelled your name wrong….vaginasane is the correct spelling…lol….that’s definitely you….oh I see you saw where I changed my moniker. I am impressed you can read. Normally idiots have a problem but you seem to manage. I would have changed my heading to FU just for posting to you but the admin said I could not treat transgenders that way.

          • verifiedsane

            Sure reads like a Tony “the toothless Tiger” Rackauckas interview or press release.

            Unfortunately, SAhome’s unimaginative spectacle of spewing commentary & unmitigated ignorance is only rivaled by their moronic unpolished vulgarity….

  • Ricardo Ochoa

    Scathing interview. Rackauckas couldn’t stop saying ‘uh’ -you can tell he was backed into a corner.

    Unbelievable that he has completely undermined the committee that he hand picked himself!!

  • LFOldTimer

    It appears that according to Rackauckas everyone is to blame except for the DA and OCSD. This man is in deep, deep denial. It’s wasn’t just Judge Goethals. It was a California appellate court that reviewed the evidence and laid down a scathing ruling against the DA’s office and OCSD. So Rackaucakas wagging his crooked finger at Judge Goethals who was only trying to maintain a semblance of integrity in his courtroom and in the OC justice system was way over the top and another dodge of accountability that falls directly on the shoulders of the DA and OCSD. This man is like a 6 year old child who swears he didn’t eat the piece of cake with brown frosting smeared all over his lips. Disgusting.

    I listened to the interview live. One important fact that wasn’t mentioned in this blog is that toward the end of the interview Handel asked Rackauckas about the allegations made by the DA investigators about DA corruption in another murder case unrelated to the Dekraai case. Naturally Rackauckas avoided answering the question (danced around it) and time ran out.

    Rackauckas says that informants are perpetual liars. Maybe it’s time for the DA’s office and OCSD to take a hard look in the mirror. We expect informants to lie. But we expect a much higher standard from those who are sworn under oath to uphold our laws and defend the US Constitution. That’s the reason we pay them the six-figure compensations. If they can’t adhere to their sworn oaths they need to be stripped of their credentials, fired, and held accountable just like ordinary citizens are held accountable every day in our courtrooms.

    They’ve turned the “higher standard” myth into a standing joke across the nation. What an embarrassment.

    The FBI, DOJ, State and Federal AG’s and the OC Grand Jury must purge the prosecutor’s office and OCSD of this defecation on our US Constitution and the justice system in the OC.

  • Debby Bodkin

    Dear Mr Rackauckas: Since you have refused to investigate and/or respond to written documentation re civil and criminal crimes committed in OC, California, for many years, maybe you or someone else from your office are reading public posts. You have failed OC’s children, vulnerable adults and employees! Believe it or not, members of the public have copies of crime reports submitted to you so why are you publicly denying truths?

    Judge Goethals is showing the public what it means to be a fair and honest Judge. Unfortunately all OCSC Judges may not share Judge Goethal’s integrity and value system. The other 50 Judges you refer to are also witnessing your public comments. STOP your intimidation tactics…. too many families, reputations, and lives have faced financial harm because of your FAILURES!

    • Sharon Wright

      I didn’t see any cities in Orange County on the list of “The Most Violent Cities in America”.
      The mass murder in Seal Beach was over a custody dispute and a crazed ex-husband. Most people here are quite safe as long as they are not in the drug or gang business. Putting the blame of lack of safety which by the way does not exist unless as I mentioned you are a gangster or drug dealer or pimping onto our DA, Tony Rackauckas and praising Goethals really shows a lack of critical thinking in my opinion.

      • Dana Swart

        Nice if you think it’s better to give up Civil liberties for the security of less crime. However, I would prefer that the government and especially the police and DA operate with the highest level of integrity. As has been said, better to let a few guilty go free than to incarcerate an innocent person. If the police and DA cannot gain a conviction with the evidence collected, then obviously they haven’t done their job. A win at all cost mentality, and only doing the bare minimum as required by law, does not say to me that they are looking for justice.

  • verifiedsane

    Rackauckas is a criminal sociopath……there is no other reasonable conclusion that can be reached….we have come to a place and time in our history, where political animals & criminals are being allowed to run our law enforcement bodies, justice system, and courts…and it appears that those who could possibly stop this madness (the Feds) have placed their heads in the sand and will do absolutely nothing. Game, Set, Match, we all lose 🙁

    • Sharon Wright

      Your name calling says a lot about your ill-will toward others. Tone it down a bit and speak from a rational point of view. Thank you.

      • verifiedsane

        Now that’s funny…especially coming from the consistently wrong and Constitution burning Ms. Wright…. 🙂