OC Supervisors Argue Over Request for Federal Takeover of DA’s Office

The county supervisors who clashed Tuesday about how to handle DA misconduct. From left: Shawn Nelson, Todd Spitzer, and Andrew Do. (Photos by Nick Gerda and Katlin Washburn)

Orange County supervisors launched into a heated debate Tuesday over Supervisor Todd Spitzer’s call for a federal takeover of the District Attorney’s Office, with some criticizing Spitzer’s move as he called on his colleagues to hold people accountable for misconduct.

The tussle centered on a letter Spitzer sent Monday to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, asking that the federal Justice Department “take control” of the DA’s office due to allegations of systemic illegalities and wrongdoing.

Two supervisors directly criticized Spitzer’s request at their regular meeting Tuesday, before the board’s discussion continued out of public view in a closed-door session. During the public discussion, Supervisor Shawn Nelson described a federal takeover as “impossible,” while Supervisor Andrew Do said it’s inappropriate for supervisors to act on the DA misconduct allegations at this point.

In response, Spitzer laid out the list of the most recent Orange County political corruption cases and urged his colleagues to take action on the ongoing issues involving the DA’s Office.

“The board should know about this [DA misconduct]. And the board should take some action. And the board should speak up. And the board should hold people accountable,” Spitzer told his colleagues during the public discussion.

But Supervisor Shawn Nelson, a lawyer who plans to run for judge next year, told the board Spitzer’s request to the feds was a non-starter.

“Not to waste a lot of time with Law School 101, but just so I’m clear…the ask is for the Department of Justice to take control of the OCDA,” Nelson said. “That’s not possible.”

“I don’t know how we ask someone to unilaterally do something that would require a negotiated settlement. ‘Cause that’s what consent decrees are – they’re settlements.”

In many cases, the Justice Department has sued local law enforcement agencies over systemic civil rights violations, in order to obtain consent decrees in which a court-appointed monitor oversees compliance with reforms.

Supervisor Andrew Do acknowledged the allegations Spitzer highlighted in his letter “are troubling,” but said the board is limited in its ability to supervise the DA’s office because its leader, Tony Rackauckas, is “independently elected.”

“We have budgetary oversight, and that’s about all we have,” said Do.

The supervisors also oversee the defense of all civil lawsuits against the DA’s office, including those that arise from the DA’s alleged wrongdoing. And they are responsible for finding a way to pay legal settlements and judgments in civil cases against the DA, which can mean millions of dollars being drawn from the rest of the county budget.

Spitzer said he and his colleagues on the Board of Supervisors have a duty to act when misconduct is brought to their attention.

“[Former OC Sheriff] Mike Carona was engaged in felonious conduct for years, and no one did anything. It only took the federal government before they went after Mike Carona, and he was convicted,” Spitzer said.

“We have a history in this county,” he continued. “The Orange County Board of Supervisors let Bob Citron do his magic with his crystal ball and his tarot cards, and try to invest in different securities like reverse repurchase agreements, that led to the greatest municipal bankruptcy in the history of the world at that time.

“And so we better, better – when this information comes to our attention – take action.”

The board, at the request of Chairwoman Michelle Steel, continued their discussion in private during their closed session.

Do hinted at the possibility of Spitzer’s colleagues issuing a counter-letter of their own, saying the closed-door discussion is appropriate so the board can make its “complete voice” heard on the matter. But there was no action reported out of the closed session discussion Tuesday.

During the public meeting, Spitzer also questioned why Chairwoman Michelle Steel was seeking a closed-session discussion of his letter when there’s been no such discussion of an explosive legal claim against the county by Craig Hunter, the DA’s former chief of investigations, who alleged a series of illegal actions by Rackauckas.

“This board knew about Craig Hunter’s allegations weeks ago, and yet it wasn’t put on the board agenda for this discussion,” said Spitzer, a political foe of Rackauckas’ who is preparing to run for DA next year.

Hunter’s claim alleges Rackauckas violated numerous laws, allowed his chief of staff to work on a fundraiser for Rackauckas during county work time, and interfered with political corruption investigations into his political allies.

Hunter says Rackauckas fired him in retaliation for testifying to the county grand jury about wrongdoing at the DA’s office.

When a sworn peace officer is “alleging, in writing, to all of us, on the record, that felonies were being committed [at the DA’s office], it is absolutely incumbent upon us to transmit that to the Attorney General of the United States of America, because [his department is] already here investigating,” Spitzer said, referring to the ongoing federal investigation of the jailhouse informants scandal.

His message for Sessions, Spitzer said, is: “It is really important for you to come in and just have [an] overlay, through a consent decree, until you figure out, Mr. Attorney General, what the heck is going on in this county.”

Steel fired back at Spitzer’s claim of a double standard regarding Hunter’s allegations, saying many people level claims when they’re being fired.

“When people [are] about to be fired, they [make] a lot of accusations,” Steel said. “We have a lot of accusations from our employees. We cannot put everything on our closed session agenda.”

The reason Hunter’s allegations weren’t on the supervisors’ agenda two weeks earlier, she said, is because the DA has his own human resources department that has to “take care of” the claim before it comes to the board.

Do said Spitzer’s comments about his colleagues “perhaps create a misunderstanding that somehow this board condones such conduct, or we have worked to keep it kind of secret from public. And that’s something that we need to address.

“The chair touched on the HR aspect of some of these allegations. And it’s true. These involved an employer-employee relationship that has to follow its own course before it can rise to the level of actionable item that this board can act on. And it hasn’t gotten to that point.”

Do also said it’s “ironic” that in the past, when justifying expanding the supervisors’ currently-defunct law enforcement oversight office, Spitzer argued he didn’t want the federal government taking over county agencies by consent decree.

“It is imperative” that if there’s a request for the Justice Department to come in, “that at least, a complete voice will be heard from this board, and I think that’s where the closed session item is necessary.”

“I want to be able to say, let’s take a time out. Let’s let the process work itself out before we go to this level of engagement with the Department of Justice,” Do said.

Spitzer responded by speaking at length about alleged and confirmed wrongdoing by the DA’s office – including repeated violations of defendants’ right to evidence indicating their innocence – and said the board isn’t doing enough to hold the DA accountable.

“In the California Court of Appeal case, they ruled, as a matter of law, that the problems in the Orange County District Attorney’s Office are systemic,” Spitzer said, quoting the justices’ warning that “the magnitude of the systemic problems cannot be overlooked.”

“We’re the county that produced Mike Carona and Bob Citron. We had Carlos Bustamante,” Spitzer said, referring to three high-ranking officials who were each convicted and imprisoned for corruption or abuse of power after earlier warnings of wrongdoing went unheeded.

“The fact of the matter is, we don’t get to just sit here,” Spitzer said of the supervisors. Regarding the Hunter complaint, Spitzer said, “it’s not a department-head HR issue. It’s a complaint filed with the clerk of the board” that made claims against the county.

“Craig Hunter is alleging that he has files, or at least knowledge, of political corruption investigations that were quashed,” Spitzer said.

Hunter’s complaint also alleges Rackauckas failed to file disclosures, mandated by state law, that money was raised under his name for a charity event that promoted his chief of staff’s business partner.

Spitzer said he brought that issue to the board “two years ago. Two years ago!”

“The really upsetting and offensive case,” Spitzer said, was the destruction of key evidence in a first-degree murder case.

A judge ruled last week that DA prosecutors knew the original California Highway Patrol report, which found an off-duty sheriff’s deputy at fault in his own death, was destroyed, and a different report was created that placed blame on the defendant, Cole Wilkins.

The existence of the original report wasn’t disclosed to defense attorneys, although it was the prosecutors’ legal duty to do so. Calling it “serious misconduct,” Judge Thomas Goethals barred the DA’s office from pursuing first degree murder charges in the case.

When the appeals court ruled there are systemic problems in the DA’s office, that put it “front and center in front of the Board of Supervisors. That’s our job,” Spitzer said. “We have a duty to talk about that” at a board meeting.

With Bustamante, a former county executive who ultimately pled guilty to sexually assaulting county employees, “the big complaint was: the Board [of Supervisors] should have known about that, the board could have done something about that,” Spitzer said.

He called on his colleagues to appoint an “outside counsel” to conduct an investigation, as he said they normally do when department heads are accused of misconduct. The outside attorney should look into Hunter’s claims and all of the other misconduct allegations, he said.

“We shouldn’t sit on our hands,” Spitzer said. “I am not about, as an elected official, to have allegations of felonious conduct come to my attention, and do nothing.” 

“That’s what a former CEO [of] this county was alleged to have done, and other county employees. They knew felonious [actions were] being conducted by Carlos Bustamante. They did nothing,” he continued.

County Counsel Leon Page told supervisors they were allowed to talk in closed session about Spitzer’s letter to the Attorney General, “as well as a potential response” to it.

Page said that’s because Spitzer’s letter “presents a significant exposure to liability” to the county, by increasing the likelihood of the Justice Department filing a civil rights lawsuit.

After the meeting, county officials confirmed the supervisors discussed the item in closed session, but no action was reported.

Meanwhile, investigations of the DA’s informants misconduct continue, led by the U.S. Justice Department, California Attorney General, and Orange County Grand Jury.

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

  • ocrino

    This is so political of Spitzer. He wants it so bad reminds me of Gollum of Lord of the Rings.

  • astar2b

    Somebody give Janet a call… OC is out of control…!

  • John Claxton

    When more media start to report on what a mess the DA, OCSD, County HR, County Counsel, ……then and only then will they get tired of being a joke and take action. Remember what a sore spot John Williams became to the BOS? They locked him out of his office and told him he was retired.

  • Jessica Davis

    @Scorpio7moon:disqus word

  • Jasenn

    One wonders if Spitzer, asking for the GOP Attorney General is a political dodge to undermine the Democratic California Attorney General’s involvement. A proper investigation would include Spitzer’s motives and history of prior statements on his political intentions, would it not?

  • Daniel Lamb

    I can’t decide if Supervisor Spitzer is sticking up for mass murderers or ushering in a dark age under boogyman AG Sessions? That’s an interesting take on bipartisanship… I am sure the Supervisor would say he’d rather be right than DA. He need not worry, he will never be either. :p

    • Jacki Livingston

      Todd will never be DA, there is too much evidence of misconduct. He is done…he just doesn’t know it yet. His ranting against Tony the Toothless Tigger is just a power play, a delusion that he thinks will get him elected. In truth, the flake will be disbarred.

  • verifiedsane

    The BoS has a long history of doing absolutely nothing until it’s far to late…..some examples are used in this article….Most of BoS are using their positions as a spring board to another political office….most people I know are sick and tired of career politicians who put their own interest above the citizens/public interest.

    The DA, Sheriff, BoS, and the rest of their subordinate departments have been mired in scandals, cronyism, and dysfunction for decades….add up all those controversies, the misuse of public funds, various crimes, and self serving political animals; we have a crisis of public trust….the citizens have been betrayed by the county government and their subordinates so many times, there is NO TRUST remaining.

    • Jacki Livingston

      The Feds should come in and take over the DA, as well as the BoS, the Sheriff, and the County’s most corrupted and filthy cash cow…Social Services Agency. It is the place that smells like a family run sewer.

  • Daisy Lang

    @@LFOldTimer:disqus so sick of your misleading comments. We have a priority as the people of OC to stand up to this. Stop bashing Spitzer and naming him an opportunist just because he’s prepared to speak out. Look at the real problem here which is yet another sad case of the DA’s corruption. Every time a criminal goes free because of T-Rack it’s more suffering for the victim’s families. Shame on whoever doesn’t speak up.

    • LFOldTimer

      Be specific. What “misleading comments”?

      I’ll repeat my former question to you, Daisy.

      Why isn’t Spitzer condemning Sheriff Hutchens and the OCSD? In their ruling the appellate court lambasted the Sheriff’s Department for their conduct in the illegal informant jail scandal. Why wouldn’t Spitzer include THEM in his little rant to AG Sessions? Hmmm? OCSD is in just as deep in this scandal as the DA.

      The answer is obvious. He needs their endorsement for his DA campaign.

      Spitzer is phony and only acts when he can increase the value of his personal political capital.

      Criminals are going free because the Sheriff deputies who the judge accused of lying under oath on the witness stand and/or withholding material evidence REFUSE to testify in their pertinent criminal cases.

      The SHERIFF runs the county jail, Daisy. Not the DA!!!

      Wake up, young lady. Take your blinders off.

      • LFOldTimer

        Looks like Daisy ran off too. No response to my reply.

        hah. Shocking.

        Thanks for playing, Daisy.

    • Jacki Livingston

      Shame on Spitzer, who ignored victims of rape, robbery, assault and deaths in nursing homes. Shame on Spitzer for doing nothing as honest county employees were assaulted, threatened and forced out. Shame on Spitzer for being a sniveling little coward, hiding behind his wife and client’s skirts so he wouldn’t have to testify about the bribes and kickbacks he was taking from murderers and organized crime. Shame on Toddykins for being a two faced, lying, lowlife, scumsucking dirtbag.

  • astar2b

    We need DA Kang to take over…

    • LFOldTimer

      hah. Yeah, sure.

      Maybe she could arrange free rock concerts at the DA’s office every Friday afternoon! lol.

  • LFOldTimer

    “When the appeals court ruled there are systemic
    problems in the DA’s office, that put it “front and center in front of
    the Board of Supervisors. That’s our job,” Spitzer said. “We have a duty
    to talk about that” at a board meeting.”

    Hey Toddy – the appellate court also verbally attacked the Sheriff’s department and their conduct during the illegal informant jail scandal.

    BREAKING NEWS: The Sheriff RUNS the jail. Not the DA!!!

    Yet you are silent as a church mouse on OCSD’s culpability in the matter.

    WHY??? Because you need their endorsement in your race for the DA’s seat – you phony bottom-feeding rascal!!!

    Stop with the theatrics, Todd. You’re just not that slick, sir. We read you like a cheap paperback book.

  • OCservant_Leader

    The house is on fire and the 4- other Board of Supervisors are doubling down on the bad advice to continue to sit on their hands and let the County House burn down.

    Spitzer is RIGHT! The elected leaders MUST act…or the 4- others who are hiding WILL be included in the COLLUSION OF CORRUPTION Which is Orange County Government.

    Irregardless of Spitzer’s motives…he is the ONLY LEADER separating himself (he is grabbing the life raft) from the floating shipwreck (OC RICO) that is going down.

    And when the FEDS lay out their case…and connect the dots of the operatives who pulled off this scam…the taxpayers will see – they are ALL related…the OC organized crime family that was put in power by breaking every Civil Service Personnel law known to civilized society.

    Good job Spitzer!

    • LFOldTimer

      “Spitzer is RIGHT! The elected leaders MUST act…”

      Sure, he’s right. But he’s motivated for all the wrong reasons. Can you say “POLITICAL EXPEDIENCE”??? I hope you have the insight to understand that.

      If Spitzer is such a hero why isn’t he calling out Sheriff Hutchens and her band of thugs? They are just as responsible, if not moreso, than Rackauckas and the DA’s office!!!

      But I must say…it’s fun to watch them eat their own.

      • LFOldTimer

        I see that nobody will respond to my question.

        That just supports my claim that Spitzer is a phony hypocrite who acts ONLY out of political expedience to increase the value of his own personal capital.

        All of you know this. You’re just too shallow to admit it.

      • OCservant_Leader

        Good point. Will Spitzer become a “white hat” and turn on the Sheriff???

        • LFOldTimer

          Hell no.

          He’ll continue licking her boots.

    • Jacki Livingston

      Todd is a lying sack of dung. He wants to hit Tony because he wants that job. But Todd is up to his neck in bribes, payoffs and corruption, and he used tactics to avoid testifying that would, should, get him disbarred. Last I checked, you can’t be DA if you are disbarred. Both of these men are scum. Spitzer took bribes and payouts from known Organized Crime members. His disingenuous little act is self serving bull.

  • LFOldTimer

    “Supervisor Andrew Do acknowledged the allegations Spitzer highlighted in his letter “are troubling,” but said the board is limited in its ability to supervise the DA’s office because its leader,
    Tony Rackauckas, is “independently elected.”

    Do’s full of it. The Board controls the DA’s budget. It holds the DA’s purse strings. Plus, it is the OBLIGATION of the Board to speak up when a county department SOILS the county’s reputation NATIONWIDE!!! A BIG part of the Board’s duties is to protect the reputation of county government. And the Board has FAILED in that obligation on the illegal informant jail scandal.

    SILENCE IS COMPLICITY!!!

    Most of the Board pulled this same crap when Carona was running the Sheriff’s Department like a bordello. Most supported him all the way up to the end even though a 5th grader could figure out that he was as dirty as a hog’s rear end. They circle the wagons for their own UNLESS one of them (ie. Spitzer) has a political interest in denigrating him – then the war of words begin.

    Of course Spitzer is a bottom-feeding phony. He’s attacking Rackauckas because wants to unseat him in 2018 and be the top dog in the DA’s office. That’s the ONLY reason Spitzer shot his mouth off. Otherwise he would be just as silent as the other four.

    Spitzer won’t trash talk Sheriff Hutchens because Spitzer’s not running for the Sheriff’s seat and needs her and the AOCDS endorsements when he run for DA.

    This is as simple as 2+2. You don’t have to be Einstein to figure it out.

    • Jacki Livingston

      Spitzer will NEVER be DA. I may not be able to get my career back, I may not be able to stop the corruption and nepotism. I may not be able to stop the rapes, assaults and killings in these facilities, or the assaults against honest employees, but I definitely have more than enough documents to prove that Todd Spitzer violated the Bar Association Conflict of Interest rules, that would get him disbarred, and I have been waiting for the day he files his intent to run for DA. I am waiting, chomping at the bit…I am ready for Toddykins.

      • LFOldTimer

        Never say never, Jacki.

        Spitzer is a VERY SLICK politician with lots of campaign reserves. If he is able to keep the fight between himself and Rackauckas – he WILL be the next DA. Unless another viable candidate throws his or her hat into the ring – Todd will sit in the corner office at the DA’s office. Mark my words.

        It would be a BIG mistake for the OC voters to make him DA. But NEVER underestimate the stupidity of the average voter.

        We need REAL viable DA candidates to enter the race. Not stumble bums. REAL CANDIDATES WITH INTEGRITY. That’s why I have been clamoring for Judge Goethals to enter the ring. Unless that happens – Spitzer will be your next DA.

        • Jacki Livingston

          If he gets disbarred, he cannot be DA. What he did, in my case, was an offense that he can be disbarred for. I have just been waiting till the right moment to file the complaint.

  • Jacki Livingston

    Oh, and Shawnie? You run for judge and I will email your emails, letter and all the stuff from Ken Calvert over to your opponent. You may have been able to force me out of my job and ruin my life, but I kept every file, every document, every email and every letter. Bring. It. ON!

  • Jacki Livingston

    Craig Hunter is absolutely correct. In fact, I gave him documents on Spitzer that he did nothing with. The feds need to take over both the BoS and the DA.

    • LFOldTimer

      “The feds need to take over both the BoS and the DA.”

      The feds need to take over the BoS and the DA and OCSD.

      I fixed it for ya.

      • John Claxton

        They should take over the Probation Department too after that weed smoking chief hired all those lesbians! Lol

        • LFOldTimer

          Yeah. lol. Maybe Ed could work on that.

          • justanon

            Heh, heh, lil’ homophobic jokes are sooo funny.

            You never fail to disappoint in your ‘deplorableness’, lol!

      • Jacki Livingston

        You are totally right on this, especially with Spitzie using the sheriffs as his own guido squad.