Grindle Asks County Counsel to Rule on Schroeder Disclosures

Orange County political watchdog Shirley Grindle (left) and District Attorney Chief of Staff Susan Kang Schroeder. (Photos by: Nick Gerda/Voice of OC and OC Register pool photo)

Political watchdog Shirley Grindle Tuesday asked the county counsel’s office to decide whether Susan Kang Schroeder, chief of staff to District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, must file yearly conflict of interest forms, and if so, for how many years.

Grindle's request to County Counsel Nicholas Chrisos comes after the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) told her it couldn’t handle her April 6 complaint against Schroeder unless the county Board of Supervisors addressed it first. The county counsel’s office is the legal advisor to the supervisors.

Neither Rackauckas nor Schroeder returned calls from Voice of OC to discuss the issue.

Grindle’s complaint stems from two Voice of OC articles. One said Rackauckas exempted Schroeder from filing the annual statements, known as 700 forms.

The other story raised questions about the involvement of Schroeder’s outside music promotion business in DA office events that were intended to raise awareness and funds for victims of human trafficking.

According to Facebook photos and comments, she and her business partner, musician Scott Foster, might have also received gifts, including rides on private jets, that Schroeder could have had to report if she was required to file a statement of economic interests, known as a Form 700.

Since 2013, Schroeder has co-supervised the District Attorney’s Human Exploitation and Trafficking Unit, a special team known as H.E.A.T. that prosecutes crimes involving the sexual exploitation of women and children.

It is the Board of Supervisors that approves the lists, from all county departments, of who has to file the conflict of interest statements. In Orange County, about 2,275 of the roughly 16,000 county workers file the forms each year.

“The intent was not to show how wealthy someone was but to show what potential conflicts they might have in making or participating in making decisions,” said Bob Stern, who helped write the 40-year-old Political Reform Act.

Those who have to file either make or participate in making “governmental decisions that could affect their personal economic interests,” according to the FPPC.

According to a range of government experts, Schroeder’s exemption means one of two things: either she should be disclosing her financial interests, or her title, salary and job description make her sound more important than she is.

According to the official job description produced by the DA's office in response to a Public Records Act request, Schroeder, a lawyer, reports directly to Rackauckas, giving “advice on high-profile, sensitive cases.” In addition, she is involved in myriad other duties, including providing “confidential staff support to the District Attorney on the most sensitive and complex matters.” She also is in charge of the DA’s news media team.

As one of the top five members of Rackauckas’ executive team, Schroeder is paid a base salary of $144,830.40 plus $84,445.36 in other pay and benefits, according to 2013 figures -- the latest numbers available -- from Transparent California. But she is the only one of the five who isn’t required to file a conflict of interest form.

Because Schroeder doesn’t file a conflict of interest form, it’s not known what personal economic interests she's had since being given the chief of staff title in 2010. She has worked for Rackauckas since he first was elected in 1998.

“My complaint specifically asks that she (Schroeder) go back and file for the years she should have been filing,” said Grindle.

Until last year, Schroeder was married to former California Republican Party chairman Michael J. Schroeder, who was Rackauckas’ 2014 election campaign chairman. Susan Schroeder was Rackauckas’ campaign manager.