This tumultuous year has proven the essential nature of nonpartisan local news. Every day we bring you news critical to staying informed and active in the community. Join us with a tax-deductible donation.
Saturday, August 28, 2010 | Former state Assemblyman and county Supervisor Todd Spitzer spoke out Saturday, saying he was improperly fired from the Orange County District Attorney’s Office over a routine phone call to the Public Guardian’s Office to check into the status of a case.
Spitzer made the call on behalf of Huntington Beach resident Teddie Alves, who had called Spitzer at the Harbor Justice Center and asked him to look into allegations of domestic violence and elder abuse at the Public Guardian’s Office.
“She [Alves] told me a crime was occurring,” Spitzer said, adding that as an officer of the court, he was obliged to look into the matter. “That’s what’s so ridiculous,” he said about his firing.
That call alone was apparently enough for Rackackaus to fire a man who just months ago he was touting as his possible successor.
“He [Rackauckas] told me I mishandled the situation with the public guardian,” Spitzer said. “I was told this was the only reason I was let go.”
Spitzer said he doesn’t understand the why of firing over the public guardian inquiry. But, he said, “it’s important for people to know what actually happened.”
He added: “I’m a sworn prosecutor, and I have absolutely every right to inform another law enforcement agency that I’ve been informed that a crime may have, or is about to, occur. It’s our legal duty and obligation to make sure the public is protected whenever possible,” Spitzer said.
But John Williams, the elected head of the Public Guardian’s Office, apparently sent Rackauckas a notification — confirmed through a statement received by the Orange County Register on Saturday — saying that Spitzer had improperly contacted his staff.
District Attorney’s Office officials would not offer any insight on the decision, with Rackauckas spokeswoman Susan Kang Schroeder saying only that “we are legally prohibited from commenting on the separation of Todd Spitzer’s employment status due to confidentiality laws.”
Ironically, the Public Guardian’s Office that Spitzer called has been at the center of controversy for years, with grand jury reports and efforts to remove its elected chief, John Williams.
Adding to the mystery is the fact that District Attorney Tony Rackauckas’ fiancée, Peggy Buff, is a high ranking official in the office.
Spitzer joined the District Attorney’s Office after years in public office in Orange County. He served as a county supervisor in the late 1990s and then moved to the California Assembly.
By 2006, there was talk of the soon-to-be termed-out Spitzer mounting a serious challenge against Rackauckas. That talk stoked fear inside Republican circles that Spitzer would be an effective prosecutor when it came to politics and elected officials.
Spitzer eventually decided against a run this year. Instead, he brokered a deal with Rackauckas to return to the District Attorney’s Office as a prosecutor with the understanding that he would run in 2014 with Rackauckas’ official blessing.
Spitzer did come back, and said he stayed quiet through a half-dozen assignments in the felony and fraud divisions. He said he was scheduled to teach prosecutorial ethics on issues involving crime victims for the entire DA staff in early October.
But his assignment as the assistant head of court at the Harbor Justice Center netted the phone call from Alves that ended his tenure at the District Attorney’s Office.
“I called him out of the blue, and he was very supportive,” said Alves, who was stunned to hear that Spitzer was fired because of the few calls made on her behalf.
She said she had called Spitzer after also calling Supervisor John Moorlach on her friend’s behalf as well. Moorlach was helpful in getting her friend some public assistance like food stamps, Alves said.
She said she called Spitzer because of his reputation as someone not afraid to take on other public officials.
“He’s a serious, heavy guy, and he can get into this and investigative it. … I wanted him to jump in there like Batman.”
Yet, Alves said, “he didn’t do that.”
She said Spitzer called her back and informed her that an investigation was underway at the Public Guardian’s Office.
“He said, ‘This is the District Attorney’s Office; I can’t get involved,’” she said. “From my point, I was disappointed. I thought he’d jump right in.”
Spitzer said all he was trying to do was to make sure that some agency was reviewing Alves’ allegation and that her friend was safe.
“I just wanted to make sure we didn’t end up with a situation where someone was seriously injured or dead and people asked why didn’t Tony Rackauckas’ office make a phone call,” Spitzer said.
Indeed, an email from the public guardian’s office to Spitzer on Thursday morning doesn’t seem to indicate that Spitzer’s questions were so badly received.
Supervising Deputy Public Administrator Sheila Roberge addressed Spitzer with a “Hi Todd” greeting. Her email continued with an offer to answer any questions: “Our office received your message regarding the above case. I attempted to contact you at your office — voicemail was full, so I left a message on your cell. I will be in a meeting most of the morning. Please feel free to email me and I am sure I can answer any questions you may have. I will get back to you as soon as possible.”
To Alves, it is a scandal.
“He jumps into it and he gets fired. What does that tell you?” she asked.
What does it tell her?
“He [Spitzer] should be the next DA, and they should clean up this whole county.”