Orange County Supervisors this month paid out $120,905 to Voice of OC attorneys, under a court order requiring them to cover court costs accrued during the news organization’s successful two-year public records battle over documents relating to the county’s investigation into allegations that former Public Works executive Carlos Bustamante sexually assaulted women who worked for him.
In December, Orange County Superior Court David T. McEachen ordered the county to make public more than two-dozen sets of documents that shed some light on how officials handled the internal investigation into Bustamante’s alleged actions.
It was the culmination of a two-year open records case brought against the county by Voice of OC and open-government advocate Californians Aware.
“It’s disheartening to see county supervisors waste more than $120,000 in taxpayer dollars to keep documents secret that the public clearly has a right to see,” said Voice of OC Editor-in-Chief Norberto Santana Jr.
Only one supervisor responded to calls seeking comment.
Supervisor John Moorlach said he was following the advice of county lawyers when he supported other supervisors in trying to keep the records from being disclosed.
“We were advised (by county counsel) that because it (the Bustamante case) was of a criminal nature, we should not release it,” said Moorlach. “It seemed like it was good advice.”
Two supervisors – Janet Nguyen and Pat Bates – are also seeking state senate seats in the upcoming November general election and Nguyen’s race is a hotly contested race with statewide implications.
Numerous other records sought by Voice of OC remain sealed because of a judicial ruling that they stay blocked until the conclusion of the ongoing criminal case against Bustamante, who was also a Santa Ana councilman.
Bustamante, whose next Superior Court appearance is scheduled for August 15, is awaiting trial on both felony and misdemeanor sex crime charges.
When allegations of Bustamante’s actions first surfaced in a 2011 report, he was allowed to resign with three months severance pay. It wasn’t until nearly six months later that county leaders referred the case to the District Attorney’s office for prosecution.
Ultimately several top county executives, including then CEO Tom Mauk, resigned or were fired and the human resources department was reorganized.
The document originally sought by Voice of OC was a claim letter sent by fired Deputy CEO Alisa Drakodaidis in the summer of 2012, which alleged a host of complaints against county officials and the Board of Supervisors.
Drakodaidis recently filed suit against the county.
Other documents still under seal pending the outcome of the Bustamente case are expected to shed light on what top county leaders, including then-members of the Board of Supervisors, knew about Bustamante’s alleged harassment, when they knew it and what they did about it.
Santana said Voice of OC would seek to make all those records public as soon as the Bustamante case is resolved.
“We will remain vigilant,” he said. “Count on it.”