DA Investigator Who Filed Legal Claim Placed on Administrative Leave

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)

Tom Conklin, an investigator for the Orange County District Attorney who filed a complaint in May claiming he faced retaliation for whistleblowing, was placed on paid administrative leave July 13.

According to a statement sent to reporters by Conklin’s attorney, Joel Baruch, Conklin has been required to “turn over his County-issued badge and gun and stay at home during normal working hours for an undetermined period.”

“This job action was undertaken to punish Investigator Conklin because he had the temerity to come forward and risk everything in order to expose wrongdoing at the highest levels of the District Attorney’s office,” Baruch said in the statement.

Conklin was placed on leave the day after an Orange County Register article which cited an internal report authored by Conklin, in which he said complaints of misconduct against Supervisor Todd Spitzer, a key rival of DA Tony Rackauckas, didn’t pan out.

Baruch said neither he nor Conklin provided the report to the Register.

DA spokeswoman Michelle Van Der Linden said that while Conklin is on paid administrative leave, it is not considered a disciplinary action.

“Obviously, police reports should not be leaked to any unauthorized persons or organizations,” Van Der Linden wrote in an emailed statement.

Conklin and another investigator, Abraham Santos, filed claims in May in which they accuse high-ranking DA officials of interfering in political investigations and paint a picture of a District Attorney’s office “micromanaged” by Rackauckas, who “rewards his friends and punishes his enemies.”

The county has until July 24 to respond to Conklin’s claim before he has the right to sue the county.

The DA’s full statement:

Contrary to misinformation being disseminated by a private attorney through a press release to the media, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office (OCDA) did not take any disciplinary action against or punish Investigator Tom Conklin. Investigator Conklin has not been placed on ‘house arrest’ as there is no requirement for the employee to stay home, only that he be available by phone during regular business hours.

The OCDA is reluctant to place anyone on a paid administrative leave; careful consideration was given to a full review of the facts and in consultation with County Counsel.  The Special Prosecutions Unit (prosecutors) and the Special Assignments Unit (Bureau of Investigations) of the OCDA are tasked with investigating and prosecuting some of the most sensitive and confidential matters in the County.

As such, these units take care to observe the utmost confidentiality in both protocol and practice, not just due to the subject matter of the investigations, but also because the OCDA works with other state and federal agencies.  Obviously, police reports should not be leaked to any unauthorized persons or organizations. Any government action should be taken based on admissible evidence and not rumors or allegations.

The OCDA will continue to work with County Counsel so the matter can be properly handled and lawfully concluded.

Contact Thy Vo at tvo@voiceofoc.org or follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.