Santana: Can We Really Trust OC Leaders to Police Themselves?

Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas last week put on an interesting clinic on leadership.

After his top aide – Chief of Staff Susan Kang Schroeder – got called out for failing to disclose her own economic interests (something pretty standard for top DA executive team members across So Cal, ie: decision makers), Rackauckas solved the stunning oversight with a unique solution.

Expand the filing requirements for all prosecutors in Orange County, from 21 people to 275.

Prosecutors apparently offer great cover.

The move allows Schroeder to quickly shuffle into compliance amidst a crowd.

It also allows a powerful DA to say he didn’t respond to legitimate questions raised by a news outlet (Voice of OC) or a citizen complaint (campaign finance watchdog Shirley Grindle) but instead just rethought disclosure and went with a higher standard.

The solution, it appears, is to shift focus onto your rank-and-file prosecutors.

Now that’s leadership.

It will indeed be super interesting to see what types of side jobs and investments these prosecutors are engaged in – along with what kinds of gifts they get.

I’m particularly interested to see what, if anything, Schroeder discloses about the private jet to Las Vegas she took last year with DA investigator Damon Tucker.

Tucker politely declined to answer questions about their jet ride when our reporter, Tracy Wood, asked him about the flight in her recent expose´detailing the apparent music industry aspirations of Schroeder.

Tucker is also friends with musician Scott Foster – who founded a music promotion business with Schroeder just before the DA got into the business of hosting promotional concerts…where Foster played lead guitar and sang vocals.

Of course, taxpayers had no idea the lead act’s front man was a partner of Schroeder’s.

That’s why such economic disclosure forms are required in the first place.

So we the public, know.

The story being floated – of course, off-record – is that Rackauckas and Schroeder never gave disclosure any kind of thought when she was elevated from press officer to chief of staff in 2010.

It’s kind of stunning that top officials at the office tasked with enforcing all sorts of transparency laws – the Public Records Act, the Brown Act and economic disclosures – didn’t even think about the issue when it came to their own interests.

Even sadder is when they were called out on that, they responded by imposing a new filing requirement on 274 prosecutors, just to help Rackauckas and Schroeder cloak any admission of an oversight.

And even more troubling is that the guy tasked with spackling up the cracking façade of integrity at the DA’s office is the head of the public integrity unit – Senior Assistant DA Mike Lubinski – whose character is very highly rated throughout Orange County.

When asked by my former Orange County Register colleague Martin Wisckol about the change, Lubinski wouldn’t discuss whether it was prompted by our stories, Grindle’s complaint or the Register’s own inquiry.

The only comment about the motivations behind this new policy was a brief statement given to Wisckol that he quoted as saying, “After reviewing the policy and the legal requirements, the OCDA has decided to expand the list to all prosecutors including the chief of staff, similar to the Santa Barbara District Attorney’s Office model, starting with this reporting year.”

Interesting to see that the DA will allow Schroeder to start reporting her economic interests now, as opposed to back to 2010 when she was made chief of staff or even earlier.

Wonder if county supervisors will agree to that approach when the whole package comes back to them?

Now, I’m not necessarily a fan of ethics commissions.

I prefer lean, effective government.

Doesn’t make sense to change out a car engine because a spark plug won’t do its job.

You just change out the spark plug, or in this case, political leader… at the next election.

Yet in Orange County, it seems more and more that we citizens are facing a systemic attempt to short-circuit any kind of real accountability for our locally elected leaders.

Just witness the embarrassing show that has become the county’s DNA collection efforts. Last week, county supervisors got into an ugly debate about the integrity and cost of duel DNA collection efforts by the Sheriff and DA.

The extra costs are part of a mysterious clash between former Sheriff Mike Carona and Rackauckas going back to 2007.

The resulting political deal ending that Sheriff-DA duel set up a junta (made up of the DA, Sheriff and County CEO) that would oversee an official DNA collection program where taxpayers got to pay for two separate DNA labs.

County supervisors – most elected after the 2007 secret deal – are themselves now asking uncomfortable questions about how this approach was struck and how long taxpayers have to keep paying extra.

There’s no solution to that yet, just ugly debates from the supervisors’ dais.

In the meantime, we taxpayers get to keep paying double.

Just like we get to pay for a totally secret set of lawyers who now investigate official corruption allegations in the wake of the 2012 Carlos Bustamante scandal – where a GOP Hispanic councilman from Santa Ana was given a sweet job in the OC Public Works department and apparently spent much of his time focusing on sex with his subordinates.

Bustamante now faces a trial on charges he was committing sex crimes against those female workers. He denies any criminal wrongdoing.

Keep in mind that six months before Bustamante was arrested in July 2012, Orange County supervisors had quietly allowed him to resign with a 90-day severance check and a confidentiality agreement.

It was only after a mysterious internal audit report (which we’ve never seen) that the issue was forced back into a February 2012 closed session – and an automatic referral was triggered to the DA.

Voice of OC had to go to court – eventually winning a judgment of more than $120,000 in legal fees against the County of Orange – just to get a few public records shedding light on official decision making during that crisis.

Now, as part of the post-Bustamante openness reforms touted by county supervisors, complaints about high-ranking officials go to lawyers quietly hired by the county to investigate allegations.

And guess what?

In the three years since Bustamante, none of these secret legal investigations has resulted in any kind of sanctions or released any public findings of wrongdoing by any top county executive or elected leader.

We’ve never even seen copies of complaints, nor any kind of detailed status report about investigations, conclusions or sanctions.

Again and again, the standard in OC for official corruption probes is stall, stall and stall.

In this kind of environment, it’s easy to understand how citizens may have to institute some sort of independent accountability mechanism for local government.

  • Shirley L. Grindle

    In reply to David Zenger’s comments which ended with the question “. . . what legal authority would an Ethics Commission have . . .”. Ethics Commissions already exist in at least 8 other local jurisdictions in California – some of them created by a vote of the public and some by City Councils/Boards of Supervisors. Ethics Commissions are a safe place for Complaints to be filed and investigated and either the complaints are forwarded to other enforcement authorities (FBI, State FPPC, DA) for resolution or are administratively fined by the EC. The EC being proposed by “Citizens for an OC Ethics Commission” would be comprised of 5 members who are first vetted and then appointed by an Appointments Panel consisting of 3 past Foremen of the Grand Jury. Under no case are elected or appointed officials involved in this process.
    I couldn’t agree more with Mr. Zenger regarding the cover-ups which seem to be prevalent in County government. Our proposed Ethics Commission would provide a safe haven for county employees to report unethical behavior without having to jeopardize their jobs.

    • Trudy White

      I have an interesting question for the VoC along those lines. How many current and former employees of the County have pending worker’s compensation, civil or suits with Fair Housing and Employment? Employees who are harrassed and threatened get sick, stress or stroke, heart attack or other injuries. This is all public records. The number would astonish you. What we need is a forum where the County Employees can go and be heard, because not one of the elected officials listens, and HR / EEO offices are there to silence worker’s and protect the wrongdoers. Check out the cases online. It is very eye-opening.

  • Shirley L. Grindle

    I am the individual who complained about DA Tony Rackauckas purposely not requiring Susan Kang Schroeder (his Chief of Staff) to file her Statement of Economic Interest (Form 700) which would have revealed her and her husband’s financial and business investments. His response to this complaint was to require all 275 deputy DA’s to file – an obvious ploy to minimize his own previous lapse of judgment and his obvious protection of the Schroeder’s outside business interests.
    I oppose this gross over-reaction and would recommend that Ms. Schroeder be required to file retroactively from 2010 AND only those Sr. Deputy DA’s and above be required to file their Statements of Economic Interest, along with Ms. Schroeder.

  • Shirley L. Grindle

    An Ethics Commission would be the safe haven for county employees to go to when bad people do bad things. Currently the practice of the county is to have county employees investigate other county employees. The Bustamante case is an excellent example of this and results in “cover-ups” to avoid public disclosure of unethical activities.

    • David Zenger

      I’m glad to see that you don’t conflate ethics with campaign reporting requirements as Spitzer et al. seem to be doing.

      The problem is a lot bigger than that and is costing the taxpayers millions in unwanted and unnecessary personal projects and schemes by Boardmembers under the noxious color of “district prerogative” (i.e. the other Supervisors look the other way waiting for their turn to pull the same trick).

      Then there’s the problem of hiding, covering up, and otherwise protecting the behavior of poor executives, upper managers, and even the Boardmembers themselves, who have a hundred lawyers working hard to come up with pretexts to excuse the inexcusable.

      But what sort of legal authority would an ethics commission have, and where would it come from?

    • Therese

      The price I paid for whistle blowing cost me my career (I was terminated from my 15 year career as an Emergency Response Senior Social Worker responsible for investigating allegations of child abuse and neglect), cost me my daughter (my own employer OC Social Services Agency removed my child from my custody while I was on a leave of absence after reporting safety hazards in the workplace Case#DP021335), cost me my health and well-being (OC SSA Human Resources Dept. released my confidential and personal home address to a client on my caseload who threatened to rape and kill me and my immediate family and to his public defender), and the Agency failed to acknowlege that a workplace violence/workplace crime ever even occurred despite the client who threatened our lives being arrested and charged with criminal threats, stalking, threat to cause injury to a peace officer in performance of duty, and anonymous harrassing phone calls (The People of the State of CA v. Amir Javidinejad)…Felony Complaint Warrant E-filed by OC District Attorney, Linda Fernandez, on 10/8/10 (OC Superior Court Case No. 10CF2743; DA Case No. 10F15504; Arresting Agency OCSD DR# 10-186499). I was called into Central Court on 9/2/11 to give a Victim Impact Statement in front of the client, Amir Javidinejad (DOB 5/5/69) who “did willfully and unlawfully threaten Therese McClane to commit a crime which would result in death and great bodily injury to Therese McClane with the specific intent that the statement be taken as a threat, and the statement was so unequivocal, unconditional, immediate, and specific as to convey to the person threatened a gravity of purpose and an immediate prospect of the execution of the threat, causing Therese McClane to reasonably be in sustained fear for her safety and the safety of her immediate family (daughter Courtney McClane DOB 8/15/96). On 9/2/11, OC Superior Court Judge Craig Robison issued a CLETS criminal protective order which listed me only as the protected person and Amir Javidinejad as the person to be restrained. OC Social Services Agency and its Director failed to acknowledge that this workplace crime occurred as OC SSA failed to follow mandatory reporting procedures, failed to reasonably provide a safe and secure workplace environment, placed our lives in imminent risk of serious physical bodily harm and/or death, refused to petition the Court for an Order Prohibiting Workplace Violence, and retaliated by intentionally releasing our personal home address to this client causing us to live in fear for our lives, illegally removed my daughter from my custody for false and maliciously filed allegations of general neglect by mother, then terminated my employment effective 7/27/12 citing violation of client confidentiality and poor judgement.

      As a seasoned child abuse investigator responsible for removing children from unsafe home environments and as a single formally working mother, I have extensive knowlege of the Welfare and Institution Codes and the legal procedures that must be followed in order to remove custody from a parent or parents and make the child a dependent of the OC Juvenile Court. Every law was broken in my situation and all of my civil, constitutional, human, parental, and victims’ rights were violated in every way. Elected officials such as members of the Board of Supervisors, John Moorlock, Janet Nguyen, County Counsel, Nicholas Crisos, and Office of Independent Review, Steven Conolly, and many other high ranking officials including Risk Managers and Deputy Directors of multiple departments within the County of Orange were all well aware of the truth but nobody did a thing.

    • Trudy White

      Really, I do admire what you do. But this? This is baby stuff. Try taking felony criminal conduct to the DA, the BoS and anyone else in the hierarchy of the County, only to spend YEARS being threatened, abused, blackballed and the crimes go on while your career destroyed by the same people you trusted to uphold the law. VoC does not deal with that, no one does. It is a lonely spot, when you actually stand by your ethics.

    • Shirley L. Grindle

      No one is more disgusted with DA Tony Rackauckas than I am – not just for his reluctance to go after campaign law violations, but for the favoritism he has shown to his friends and certain defense attorneys by not filing charges on them or their clients. It is hoped that an Ethics Commission would have significantly more clout when they refer a case to the DA’s office for further investigation and potential prosecution. Unfortunately the State law requires us to first go to the DA with cases.

  • Kathleen Tahilramani

    Excellent piece of journalism. Seems like the DA’s order to refuse to speak to the VOC is not working. Between Norberto and Ms. Grindle they all folded like cheap suits. And, I feel the vast DA expansion of mandated form 700 reporters points to both cover for Ms. Kang but also a huge indication of how intentionally sloppy things are in the DA’s office. Adding over 200 form 700 reporters is just a travesty. All of a sudden the DA decided that all these people should have been reporting. How about they all go retroactive. That would be a VOC treasure trove, This is insane. Hidden reports, made up evidence, retaliation against whistle-blowers, all manner of deception, lie’s by omission and case after case of employees being destroyed for trying to make things right. Tie it all up, put a orange bow on it and you have your very own taxpayer paid for OC Mafia. These people will never police themselves, they will circumvent and ignore anything put in place to monitor or prevent corruption. They are all there because corruption pays well. And the grandstanding of a few for life, liberty and the American dream is just pablum for the gullible.

    • Trudy White

      What we need is a class action suit against the County by employees punished for reporting crimes and misconduct. Know a good lawyer?

      • Kathleen Tahilramani

        No lawyer in OC will touch it as it is risky to their practice on many levels Judges are to one degree more or less in the pocket of powerful county elite. A civil suit is horribly expensive and the County has unlimited resources available to squash any suit. And sadly anyone involved in a class action suit WILL have their career demolished.

        • Trudy White

          Their career is already demolished the second they spoke up the first time. There is no going back from that. Insofar as a lawyer, we would have to find one with a lot of attitude and outside the County. All I know is that unethical behavior is bad…but criminal conduct cannot be allowed to stand unchallenged!

          • Kathleen Tahilramani

            Been there done that. The county will manipulate, make up, reconstruct and engage any dirty trick necessary to kill an employee case. Not many people can tolerate the emotional torture and the financial risk.

          • Lyanna Lyns

            Then maybe, like Trudy says, we need one person just crazy enough to put it all on the line. Someone who would copy all the documents they have, write their story, and bind them into a book that they hand out at the swap meet…free. By the time that hits the fan, the rest won’t matter much, will it?

          • Kathleen Tahilramani

            People need to be very careful with what they “expose”. Check with an attorney first. Release of confidential county information will put a person in legal jeopardy What “hit’s the fan” can blow back in the face. .

          • Lyanna Lyns

            At some point, people stop caring.

          • Lyanna Lyns

            Why? This is how they get away with it. This is how they browbeat people who are trying to do the right thing. Maybe some audacious person needs to stand up and scream the truth, b@lls to the wall.

          • Kathleen Tahilramani

            You have to be both realistic and careful. Some information cannot be released as it legally protected as confidential. Nobody wants to go to jail – right? And, you have to be ready to lose your job and benefits. And if you want to hire an attorney – you get to pay for costs and if you lose or decide to take a settlement in favor of the County because they have worn your out, fabricated,lied, bullied you into submission – you pay. So, you better have deep pockets, a full retirement waiting in the wings or you are screwed. Many a good person has gone as you say balls to the wall, screamed the truth in a most audacious manner – only to get crushed.
            I would not encourage anyone to release information that legally belongs to the county and is deemed confidential. Bad Idea.

          • Lyanna Lyns

            The best defense to libel is truth, and if you are releasing information to the court, that is public domain, especially when you are reporting criminal activity on the part of officials.

    • thomas sheridan

      YOU are a part of the corruption here. I WON’T SUGAR COAT IT; I TELL IT LIKE IT IS.

  • Trudy White

    Fantastic article and brilliantly written. You cannot imagine how difficult it is for any employee of the County to get anyone to listen when they witnessed corruption or even a crime. None of these Bozos, even those who hate each other, will do anything. And even if the have proof, like boxes of documents, no news outlets are going to report on the accusations, because the employee is painted as disgruntled, lying or nuts. The wheel keeps turning. So what are YOU going to do about it?

    • Therese

      You are absolutely true…The County of Orange will make sure to defame your character, ruin your reputation, and destroy your life if you stand up for what is right and tell the truth. They don’t want the truth to be told because the County of Orange doesn’t want its bad behavior to be exposed. So victims of a workplace Felony Hate Crime such as myself are blackballed and victimized further. Someone needs to stop this corruption. I do not want another human being to ever have to experience the hellacious events that were intentionally and knowingly inflicted upon me and my family in an attempt to silence me forever. (Reference Felony Complaint E-Filed on 10/8/10 by OCDA Linda Fernandez (OCDA Case No. 10F1554) charging the client, Amir Javidinejad, who threatened to rape and kill me and my daughter, Courtney McClane, with Felony Criminal Threats PC 422, Felony Stalking PC646.9(a), Threat to Injury to Public Officer and employee in the performance of her duty PC 71(1), and Annoying Telephone Calls PC 653m(b).(Superior Court Case/Cental Court No. 10CF2743). Arresting Agency Orange County Sheriff’s Department DR# 10-186499. Date of crime 9/28/10. With all of this concrete evidence proving that a crime was committed against me and my daughter, OC Social Services Agency terminated my employment and painted me as “crazy” when it was a well-known fact that the client, Amir Javidinejad, is the crazy one suffering from paranoid schitzophrenia. OC Social Services Agency did not protect me nor did they protect my child. They placed us at risk of imminent danger/death and covered up their bad behavior consisting of deceit, false Juvenile Dependency reports, and intential acts to defraud an injured employee/victim from receiving workers compensation benefits. (Reference Claim #CTOR-0321442, EAMS #ADJ7595347; County of Orange/York Claims Services, Defendants v. Therese McClane, Applicant in Pro Per.) Date of Injury was altered on the DWCI form from 9/28/10 to 9/28/09 so the County could avoid any connection to the workplace violence that occurred on 9/28/10. The Workers Compensation System failed me due to County of Orange paying a physician “a lot of money to write your report” per statements by the physician to me during our 25 minute meeting, Thus my Temporary Disability Benefits and my accepted workers compensation claim was then denied based on this fraudulent report written by Ernest Wagner, MD.

      The extent the County will go to protect their reputation and avoid any responsibility for corrupt actions is limitless. They tried to put me in the grave yet I’m still standing and I still want my story to be heard. The truth needs to be told and I’m willing to tell it. My email is
      Therese McClane

  • Paul Lucas

    In the area of the DNA collection, those who qualify for relief under prop 47 can have their DNA return ed to them and taken out of the database. I think this would probably save money in the long run in continued maintainance costs vs the initial expenses.

  • Paul Lucas

    “Can We Really Trust OC Leaders to Police Themselves?” Obviously a rhetorical question With the answer being NO as we have observed over the last few years thanks to VOC and OCW et al.

    • Therese


    • Therese

      Absolutely NO!

  • David Zenger

    “It was only after a mysterious internal audit report (which we’ve never
    seen) that the issue was forced back into a February 2012 closed session
    – and an automatic referral was triggered to the DA.”

    For clarification: the County hired an outside lawyer to (finally) investigate Bustamante after the second complaint made to the Internal Auditor and the BOS in August of 2011. This lawyer’s report is the damning 29 page list of horrors that then BOS Chairman and mentor of Bustamante, Bill Campbell, claims (incredibly) never to have read.

    County CEO Tom Mauk and HR Director Carl Crown hid the report in a safe in Crown’s office. And there it would still be today except that the Internal Auditor finally discovered it’s existence in the course of his own investigation.

    At this point all the cover-uppers started running for cover themselves, but astoundingly, Campbell, Bates, Nguyen and even Moorlach continued to keep Mauk employed for another four months, as Public Works Director Jess Carbajal was tagged to be the fall guy. The completely incompetent Crown who had run cover for Bustamante was allowed to “retire” quietly.