Children of Top DA Officials Get Coveted Jobs

Senior Assistant District Attorney Jim Tanizaki speaks during a preliminary hearing for the death of Kelly Thomas, on May 7, 2012 in Santa Ana, California. (Photo by Joshua Sudock-Pool/Getty Images)

Every year, Jim Tanizaki, one of District Attorney Tony Rackauckas’ chief deputies, visits the Chapman University Fowler School of Law to brief students on what it takes to get a job as a prosecutor at the DA’s office.

He makes it clear that the competition is fierce.

Within two or three days of opening the application process, the DA’s office will receive around 500 applications. Less than a quarter of those will be called back for an interview, which includes a performance test judged by two assistant district attorneys.

The 30 to 40 candidates who move on will be interviewed by a panel that usually includes four senior assistant district attorneys, including Tanizaki and Michael Lubinksi, who supervises “special projects” at the DA’s office, including corruption investigations. The panel will make the final decision to hire only a handful as prosecutors.

Tanizaki swears there’s no favoritism, regardless of who you know.

“Let me say something many of our lawyers will not want me to say, but I’m going to tell you the honest truth — they cannot get you a job in our office,” Tanizaki said at a talk he gave at Chapman in September. “No matter how popular they are, no matter how great a trial lawyer they think you are, they cannot get you a job.”

Except that his son, Stephen Tanizaki, and Lubinski’s daughter, Katherine Lubinski — both 2014 Chapman Law graduates — were hired at the DA’s office in September.

Chapman is the DA’s top feeder school for new graduate hires, and the hirings did not violate the county’s nepotism policy, which allows for relatives of officials to get jobs at the county as long as they don’t directly report to them. And there are no indications that Stephen Tanizaki or Michael Lubinski subverted the normal hiring process in order to get their children jobs.

Michael Lubinski. Photo from Orange County DA website.

Michael Lubinski. Photo from Orange County DA website.

“I had no involvement whatsoever in the hiring of my daughter or Jim Tanizaki’s son. So no comment,” Michael Lubinski said.

Jim Tanizaki said the same thing regarding his son’s hiring. When asked whether his colleagues could render an objective decision on hiring his son, he said that’s a question for them. “I’m not the one to ask,” he said, and declined to comment further.

However, during his talk at Chapman, Jim Tanizaki acknowledged his son was hired at the DA’s office but claimed that he was “walled off” from the hiring process altogether the year his son applied.

“Some how, some people in our office liked him and hired him,” Tanizaki said.

News of the hirings caused eye rolls among some Chapman law students, who otherwise didn’t want to be quoted for fear of harming their job prospects. Meanwhile, an ethicist said they raise concerns.

Jessica Levinson — a clinical professor of law at Loyola Law School and president of the Los Angeles Ethics Commission – said candidates shouldn’t be disqualified just because their parents are high-ranking officials.

But it did give her pause that, of the handful hired out of a pool of 500, two happened to be children of top DA officials.

“You can definitely look at the numbers and ask would they have otherwise been hired?” said Levinson, whose husband works in the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office. “And that’s very difficult to answer.”

Ironically, Michael Lubinski is supervising an investigation into nepotism scandals that have roiled Garden Grove City Hall in recent years.

The DA’s office initiated an investigation last December into the hiring of former mayor Bruce Broadwater’s son Jeremy as a city firefighter, among a pool of 500 candidates and despite several misdemeanors on his record and allegedly failing a crucial oral exam.

Jeremy Broadwater also reportedly made life-threatening mistakes on the job, although some firefighters have told independent investigators that they believe Broadwater has been subject to harassment and unnecessary scrutiny.

To be sure, neither Stephen Tanizaki nor Katherine Lubinski can be compared to Jeremy Broadwater. Both graduated from Chapman on time and were admitted to the state bar late last year. They also made the law school’s mock trial team, which the DA’s office holds in high regard.

But they didn’t graduate at the top of their class. Neither were members of the school’s Law Review, which admits the students with the highest GPA, nor did they graduate with honors or a special emphasis, according to information released for Chapman’s 2014 commencement.

It’s unclear how many open positions there were the year Stephen Tanizaki and Katherine Lubinski were hired. The DA’s office didn’t return a phone call seeking that information.

But during his talk this year, Jim Tanizaki said there might be between six and eight open positions during this year’s enrollment period. He will be at Chapman Tuesday to talk about fellowship opportunities.

Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at aelmahrek@voiceofoc.org and follow him on Twitter: @adamelmahrek.