Judge Grants Voice of OC Emails and Op-Ed on Spitzer Handcuffing Evangelist at Wahoo’s 

JEFF ANTENORE/Voice of OC

Wahoo's restaurant in Foothill Ranch.

Superior Court Judge Walter P. Schwarm Tuesday ordered the County of Orange to give Voice of OC emails between Supervisor Todd Spitzer and a former county information officer about Spitzer’s handcuffing an evangelist at a Wahoo’s Fish Taco restaurant.

“… the Respondent (county) has not carried its burden of showing that the public interest in nondisclosure clearly outweighs the public interest in disclosure,” Schwarz wrote in his memorandum of intended decision, which will become final in a few weeks.

Voice of OC Publisher Norberto Santana praised the decision saying “credit goes to Judge Schwarm for upholding the public’s right to know and clearly reinforcing the notion that the public has the right to review all communications between elected officials and the bureaucracy.”

Voice of OC attorney Kelly Aviles said “hopefully in the future the county will take the public interest more seriously when considering whether to release records.”

Spitzer told a Voice of OC reporter the county would release a statement about the judge’s decision Wednesday. Spitzer also said in a text message he wanted to release the opinion piece “but I was advised at the time by (former county Public Information Manager) Jean Pasco not to do so.”

The emails and a draft opinion piece (Op-Ed) about the citizen’s arrest written by Spitzer, but never made public, are expected to be turned over to Voice of OC when the decision is final in the next few weeks. The county tried to keep the emails and Op-Ed confidential claiming the “deliberative process” privilege exempted the documents from the California Public Records Act.

Spitzer handcuffed the evangelist, Jeovany Castellano, at Wahoo’s in Foothill Ranch on April 3, 2015.

Voice of OC sought the emails and Op-Ed through a public records request but was forced to file the law suit when the county refused to make them public. The Board of Supervisors then voted to fight the lawsuit.

The emails are between Spitzer, who said after the incident he felt threatened by the evangelist, and Pasco. The draft opinion piece apparently is Spitzer’s insights into what happened.

In another section of the Voice of OC law suit against the county, the judge ruled staff emails and documents related to a Boys Town contract on an April 14, 2015 agenda could remain confidential as part of the government “deliberative process privilege.”

As part of his ruling, Schwarm wrote disclosing that information “could have the effect of undermining the Board of Supervisors ability to perform its functions by discouraging the flow of information to an elected official necessary to make an informed decision.”

After his arrest of the evangelist, who worked at Boys Town, Spitzer reportedly pulled the Boys Town contract from the agenda, although it later was approved by the supervisors. The evangelist reportedly was let go from his job, but he hasn’t spoken with reporters.

Said Santana, “We will be studying the judge’s decision over the next few weeks and deciding our next course of action.”

Tuesday’s decision was the second time in three years Voice of OC successfully sued and won a case challenging county efforts to keep public records secret.

In February, 2014 Voice of OC won the release of numerous public records in connection with allegations of harassment against county government workers, including documents relating to the investigation into former county Public Works executive Carlos Bustamante, who was charged in 2012 with committing multiple sex crimes against women who worked for him.

Underlying the issues in the Voice of OC suit is California’s 64-year-old Ralph M. Brown Act which set the ground rules for government agencies:

“In enacting this chapter, the Legislature finds and declares that the public commissions, boards and councils and the other public agencies in this State exist to aid in the conduct of the people’s business. It is the intent of the law that their actions be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly. The people of this State do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the governing bodies they have created.”

You can contact Tracy Wood at twood@voiceofoc.org and follow her on Twitter: @TracyVOC.

  • Jack Milliken

    Todd Spitzer – junior G-man saving the world from persistent Christians

  • Paul Lucas

    victory. congrats voc

  • OCservant_Leader

    Congrats Norberto and VofOC. The County “deliberately” lied and illegally withheld the information from the public.

    Please – for the love of God – you must APPEAL the good Judge’s decision to allow the County to withhold the emails regarding the Boy’s Town Contract.

    Politicians – Pulling the contract and ordering the subsequent firing of a contract employee has nothing to do with the bureaucracy’s ability to contract out services.

    What the contract emails will show – is how the OC Family in power operates – in secret – outside of all normal business channels to manipulate and abuse their power.

    You will see the 5th floor working hand in hand with the appointed CEO’s sister to jack up the contracting process to appease a politician’s fragile ego. This is the very reason why the County is so dysfunctional and corrupt.

    APPEALING the decision to set precedent – that ALL communication between Politicans and the Bureacracy IS the very cornerstone of transparency.

  • Roger Butow

    I’m serious about the general population comment……that’s where Pretty Boy Spitzer wanted his victim to go, let the punishment fit the crime: An illegal, abusive detention of a citizen. Put him in late on Friday afternoon when inmates can’t get bailed out until Monday am, see if he can make it through 60 hours of the Hell he envisioned for his detainee.

  • Roger Butow

    Lock him up in general population. Let’s see how tough he really is.

    • LFOldTimer

      Don’t you realize he’s too big to jail?

      If a common peasant (any one of us) did that we’d get free county transport to Theo-Lacy.

  • Nrgmavn

    When will these guys realize that “bad news doesn’t get better with age.” It is very simple, just comply with the law.

  • Evan Little

    Congratulations Voice of OC and thank you!

  • LFOldTimer

    Congratulations to Norberto for getting half of what you wanted. But how do you know you’ll get all that you’re entitled to? That’s my concern.

    I too don’t understand the Boys Town ruling. Privileged? Taxpayers have a financial interest in that contract and it seems should have access to communications that may reveal the decision making process that resulted in a material change to the terms of the contract.

    I agree with Zenger. The Boys Town communications might be juicier than the other stuff the Judge provided access to.

    • David Zenger

      As part of his ruling, Schwarm wrote disclosing that information “could have the effect of undermining the Board of Supervisors ability to perform its functions by discouraging the flow of information to an elected official necessary to make an informed decision.”

      Here’s where the judge got it wrong. The Brown Act presupposes the absolute right of the public to know what’s going on – with just a few, clearly defined exceptions such as litigation (often abused), personnel matters, and negotiations on real estate transactions. Communication about the Boys Town contract can’t fall under those categories.

      The County really got what it wanted: a judge to recognize the “Deliberative process privilege” nonsense. This means every time the public wants to know something potentially embarrassing, they’ll trot out this argument and the public will have to sue to get it.

      This ruling gives very little reason to celebrate. Unless you work on the 4th or 5th Floor of Building 10.

      • LFOldTimer

        I agree with your analysis full-on, David. The Ralph M. Brown Act is very specific about what government communications can be excluded from the public’s view. IMHLO, the email communications per Boys Town are not one of them. Some things with the law are hazy. Some are quite clear that don’t need a lot of interpretation. I believe in this case it’s the latter. Hopefully Norberto will agree and demand full transparency – not just for his own benefit – but for the benefit of the people who have a right to know what their elected leaders are doing behind the scenes to either cover their own as*es or to use their seats of power as a tool of retribution against others. The proselytizer is powerless. I want to know if Spitzer bullied him out of his job.

  • Cynthia Ward

    Nicely done, Voice of OC. Congrats!

  • John Claxton

    Here’s my concern. Why does a County Supervisor carry handcuffs in the first place? It’s deeply troubling. Also, where did the guy that Spitzer apparently wrongfully detained go? Spitzer does have over a million dollar war chest for his run for DA. Was there a payoff? If Supervisor Nelson can write a $150,000.00 check from his office account to pay for his own retirement bill, what keeps any of the other supervisors from doing who knows what. another piece of this story that is missing is how much is it going to end up costing the tax payers. I assume the county will be on the hook for attorneys fees as well.

  • David Zenger

    “but I was advised at the time by (former county Public Information Manager) Jean Pasco not to do so.”

    Um, Todd, taking legal advice from your own PR flack? Really? You’re a lawyer, right? And that’s the story you want to go with? Of course we remember it was you who started lecturing us on the untested concept of “deliberative privilege” and all the precedent on your side.

    The Boy’s Town documents aren’t privileged either and I hope Voice appeals that.

  • Frank Mendoza

    So the judge rules that VOC gets the op-ed, but all the county emails and documents related to a Boys Town contract remain privileged? Didn’t Spitzer write the op-ed to be published anyway? What is the percentage of documents released to the documents that remain privileged? VOC’s reaction is kind of like a baseball player that is 0 for 22 getting a hit and flipping his bat as he jogs to first.

  • verifiedsane

    About time…..this soon to be released information should be a very interesting read….Good job Norberto Santana