More than 200 additional staff members at the Orange County District Attorney’s office will have to file financial interest disclosures, after a proposed list by District Attorney Tony Rackauckas was approved by county supervisors on Tuesday.
The disclosures, known officially as form 700s, are due in 30 days.
The move comes after Voice of OC revealed in February that the DA’s chief of staff, Susan Kang Schroeder, had not been filing financial disclosures.
Schroeder should have been filing the forms since Rackauckas named her his chief of staff in 2010, but he never required her to do so. He then reversed course after Voice of OC’s articles on the issue and a complaint filed with the county counsel by local campaign finance watchdog Shirley Grindle.
Supervisors approved the list unanimously. But some said it had too many names and indicated they want to whittle it down.
“This list, we believe, is inappropriate,” said Do.
“Some of these titles just look like we’re digging pretty deep into the trough,” said Supervisor Shawn Nelson, pointing to “buyer technician.”
County Supervisors are responsible for approving changes to who has to file financial disclosures, known as form 700s, among employees at the county government and many other outside agencies.
Under state law, positions must be included if they’re involved in decisions that could impact “any financial interest.”
County departments have to submit updated filer lists every two years. But Rackauckas missed that deadline nearly six months ago and didn’t submit the update until the past few days, officials revealed Tuesday.
In response to questions from Supervisor Todd Spitzer, the board’s interim clerk said the DA’s office was supposed to file an updated list, if changes were going to be made, by December.
But the DA didn’t do so, said the clerk, Robin Stieler. And it wasn’t the first time. In 2010 the DA didn’t file an updated list, even after clerk staff reached out twice about the issue, Stieler said.
Spitzer directed that the clerk put an item on the board agenda each January listing agencies that haven’t filed their updates. He also had questions about why deputy district attorneys were included in the list of filers. But those questions went unanswered because Rackuackas didn’t send a representative to the meeting.
“It’s a little disconcerting” that the DA’s office wasn’t available to answer questions, Spitzer remarked.
The DA’s office, meanwhile, declined to comment to Voice of OC about Tuesday’s events.
Spitzer, a former protégé of Rackauckas’ who has become his chief political foe, suggested that Rackuackas’ large expansion of those who must file was really about covering for Schroeder.
“Every deputy district attorney was thrown under the bus,” Spitzer said.
“It’s very troubling that this has been such a widespread blanket…to try to deflect the discussion away from what should have happened since 2010.”
The disclosure requirements for deputy DAs, meanwhile, are much lower than that of Schroeder and other higher-level officials.
Instead of having to disclose financial interests in general, the line-level prosecutors would be limited to just having to reveal interests associated with parties to cases they prosecute.
That alleviated the concerns of prosecutors, according to their union.
“There is no longer a concern that hard-core gang members or killers are gonna get access to our personal investments and addresses” of businesses owned by prosecutors’ husbands or wives, said Larry Yellin, president of the Orange County Attorneys Association.
“With that concern being protected…it tells the public that the deputy DAs are going to make an affirmative statement that they are complying with all the rules and laws, which we’re gonna be doing anyway”
Additionally, if prosecutors have financial ties to parties in a case, “we shouldn’t be on that case, let alone keeping that from the public.”
Meanwhile, county political watchdog Shirley Grindle reiterated her concern that Schroeder was using the DA’s office to promote her private music promotion business, and taking gifts – like a private jet flight – that should have been reported.
“You are part of a political system, whether you like it or not, that protects other county elected officials,” Grindle told supervisors.
She announced plans to re-file an earlier complaint with the state Fair Political Practices Commission regarding Schroeder’s delayed disclosures, as well as a new complaint with the state Attorney General over alleged use of taxpayer resources to promote Schroeder’s side business.
Grindle and a colleague, attorney Bill Mitchell, also advocated their ballot initiative to establish an ethics commission.
“The lack of a clear, comprehensive and fair system to ensure compliance and enforcement ensnares the innocent and emboldens the unethical,” Mitchell said.
Nelson, meanwhile, said a new government agency isn’t necessary.
“Crimes get solved all the time in this country because someone” calls the authorities, he said.
As for the DA’s delays in updating his form 700 filers list, Spitzer said supervisors make sure to file their forms on time, “but it seems like other people don’t seem to care too much.”