Legal Heavyweights Call for Federal Probe of Orange County DA

A coalition of national legal authorities is calling for a federal investigation of the Orange County District Attorney and Sheriff’s Department for alleged systemic violations of defendants’ rights involving jail informants.

In a letter sent Tuesday to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, six legal organizations, three dozen former prosecutors from across the nation, and U.S. Constitutional law authorities called the ongoing informants scandal “a crisis.”

“The constitutional rights of defendants appear to have been violated for decades in Orange County,” states the letter, which was signed by a who’s who of the legal establishment led by Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the UC Irvine School of Law, and John Van de Kamp — a former U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles, California Attorney General and Los Angeles District Attorney.

(Click here to read the letter in its entirety.)

Chemerinsky, who is a Voice of OC board member, publicly has called for a federal inquiry before. Now, along with Van de Kamp, he is joined by: The American Civili Liberties Union; California Attorneys for Criminal Justice; the National Association of Public Defense; the Constitution Project; Harvard’s Charles Ogletree; former Los Angeles District Attorney Gil Garcetti; and Elisabeth A. Semel of UC Berkeley School of Law.

“Now, it’s critical that a credible, neutral party conduct a thorough investigation of the actions of both the Sheriff’s Department and the OCDA,” the 16-page letter goes on to say.

“Otherwise, we will never know how many citizens’ constitutional rights were violated, and the public will not be able to have full confidence in our criminal justice system.”

Rackauckas’ office didn’t respond to a request for comment today on the call for a federal inquiry.

A spokesman for Sheriff Sandra Hutchens said the department is reviewing the letter and would cooperate with such a probe, as it is with other inquiries.

The alleged rights violations were first revealed in February 2014 during the murder case of Scott Evans Dekraai, who has pleaded to the 2011 murder of his ex-wife and seven others in a Seal Beach beauty salon.

Dekraai’s county public defenders, led by Scott Sanders, uncovered widespread evidence of District Attorney Tony Rackauckas’ team, along with sheriff’s deputies, withholding evidence gleaned from jailhouse informants, thereby violating the constitutional rights of Dekraai and potentially many other defendants.

In the wake of these disclosures, more than a half-dozen inmates jailed or facing long terms had their sentences reduced or eliminated.

After a months-long evidentiary hearing centered on Sanders’ revelations, Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas M. Goethals in March issued an order recusing Rackauckas’ entire office from the Dekraai case due to prosecutorial misconduct.

Goethals found that both a deputy district attorney and sheriff’s deputies provided false testimony during the hearing, and that Rackauckas’ office couldn’t be relied upon to balance defendant rights with its prosecutorial duties.

Sanders unsuccessfully sought to have Goethals dismiss the death penalty for Dekraai because of the prosecution’s conduct, with the defendant accepting life without possibility of parole. Dekraai now faces a penalty phase trial.

After Goethals’ ruling, California Attorney General Kamala Harris’ office said it opened an investigation into the disclosures arising from the Dekraai case. A spokeswoman for the agency said its probe focusing on any criminal violations is continuing.

Despite the growing number of questioned cases, both Rackauckas and Hutchens have publicly maintained that there are no major problems — only a lack of training for prosecutors and deputies.

However, once Goethals ruled, Rackauckas’ office did agree to have a panel review his agency’s practices, saying it would look to improve and strengthen future practices. That group of attorneys reportedly is expected to produce its report soon.

The signers of the letter demanding a federal probe said Rackauckas and Hutchens have not gone nearly far enough in acknowledging the misconduct.

Rackauckas has sought to “publicly minimize the seriousness of the situation,” the letter says, while refusing “to so much as consider the potential to countless accused who may have been deprived of critical evidence.”

The “staunch refusal” of the district attorney and sheriff “to acknowledge the possibility that members of their respective agencies have intentionally deprived defendants of evidence,” or that scores of other defendants may have been denied due process, “would appear to be driven more by concerns about self-preservation than impartial analysis,” the letter says.

Letter signers concluded by writing: “It is our firm belief that U.S. Department of Justice is the only entity equipped to conduct this investigation, and restore public confidence in the justice system of Orange County.”

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  • Jacki Livingston

    Oh, how sweet. Chemerinsky, the ACLU, Garcetti…wow, tarring and feathering makes for some strange bedfellows. What astonishes, and disgusts, me is that they will all pull out their brushes for criminals sitting in the local jail, but no one…and I do mean NO ONE…would lift a federal or state finger (choose whatever finger you like) to help county employees who had proof of criminal conspiracy, assault, abuse, embezzlement and fraud against patients on life support in nursing homes. We went from agency to agency, one place to the next, and all of them scoffed. Oh, they didn’t say that we were wrong, because obviously we had proof, absolute proof. They didn’t care that the taxpayers of the county were being double and triple billed. They didn’t care that this criminal enterprise involved County management and politicians, and that it stunk all the way up to the fifth floor downtown. What were their excuses? The ACLU chick I spoke to said that these patients were not a population that they historically exerted their efforts for. The state attorney general (Kamala Harris) office said it wasn’t big or sexy enough to garner their attention. The FBI? They said that the money wasn’t big enough to make it worth their while, because there was no profit for them. From one place to the next, we sought justice for men and women who had no voice. We asked for nothing for ourselves. We were doing our jobs, for the taxpayers we worked for. Now you have these bloated, self involved, publicity hunting entities going after T-Rack. I am sure that the crooked criminal Chairman of the BoS has nothing to do with this witch hunt, right? Oh, no, not these fine, upstanding entities and champions of justice. Clearly, if you are a child molester, rapist, murderer…especially a mass murderer…you can have these great minds gather together on your behalf. But if you are an honest taxpayer, or a person on life support, or an 87 year old woman who was dropped on her head on concrete, or an employee of the county trying to do the job you were paid to do, you can’t get a single one of these hypocritical fame seekers to return your call. Good to know.

  • Paul Lucas

    Does anyone know if there is a mandated time period in which the DOJ has to respond to such calls? Is the DOJ mandated to respond to these sort of things?

    • Debby Bodkin

      It is very encouraging that the letter signed by legal authorities requesting an investigation has been publicly circulated. Most letters requesting investigations are never publicly disclosed so, Mr. DA and Ms. Sheriff can always claim they never received the letter and/or some other lame excuse.

      Thanks to the legal authorities signing the letter for giving a public voice to individuals whose reports were never investigated and obviously filed in the circular file of law enforcement authorities in the OC. Hopefully the USDOJ does not send one of its “form” letters with another excuse for denying an investigation.

      • Jacki Livingston

        That is so true. I have copies of every email, letter and transcripts. I don’t think that TRack and the others understand about tracking of delivery or fax confirmations. Idiots.

  • LFOldTimer

    OMG. So 3 dozen seasoned high-ranking attorneys, to include some of the brightest minds we have in criminal law, have pulled the trigger and submitted a letter to the US Attorney asking her to stop lollygagging around and investigate the OC informant scandal. ha. What’s it going to take? Does Jesus Christ have to float down off a cloud with a whip in his hand to get these people to do their jobs? It’s a 25 page letter that layed out all the damning evidence, soup to nuts. Based on that information alone a Grand Jury true bill should be as easy as cutting butter with a red hot knife. I bet Stephen Connolly at the OIR is burning the midnight oil tonight trying to figure out a way to spin this for Sheriff Sandra who was quoted in the Register to say that the OCSD has learned from its mistakes. ha. That would be like a dope dealer caught with 10 kilos of coke in his trunk telling a patrol cop that he learned from his mistake after the narco dog alerted. Of course his mistake was that he got caught! For God sakes…is there any integrity at all left at the top??? Please, either take the Fifth like those 4 cops who refuse to perform their sworn duties and testify in criminal court – or follow the lead of Bill Clinton and his famous 1998 TV statement following Lewinsky. Here is a quote of his final words. Learn from it:
    “Now it is time — in fact, it is past time to move on. We have important work to do — real opportunities to seize, real problems to solve, real security matters to face. And so tonight, I ask you to turn away from the spectacle of the past seven months, to repair the fabric of our national discourse, and to return our attention to all the challenges and all the promise of the next American century” The only thing Bill forgot was: “Goodnight and God bless America”. So stay on script with Bill and it won’t even require whitewash. Mimic the master.

    • Jacki Livingston

      The brightest minds? I shudder to think that is true. The sad fact is this, unless you do something to cross the powers that be, once you are elected or promoted into a position of authority, you will be protected, if for no other reason than ‘professional courtesy’. I am sickened by the knowledge that this outrage that they are posturing is on behalf of criminals, including a mass murderer who killed innocent people. This county is rotten to the very core, and these grandstanding publicity seekers are not speaking to help the taxpaying citizens, or the vulnerable people who cannot speak on their own. They are grandstanding and making political hay on behalf of largely lawbreaking dirtbags. When I look at the six boxes of documents, emails, files, letters, clippings, transcripts, medical records and interagency communications, and remember that none of these entities would lift a finger for the taxpayers who were my true bosses, or the hundreds of men and women being murdered, abused, assaulted and embezzled from by the very nursing homes and county agencies that were supposed to protect them, I want to vomit. The taxpayers I served are, to this day, being cheated. The patients, to this day, are being killed and robbed. But let’s all cheer because these publicity hound “brightest minds” got off their fat duffs and stood up for right and liberty of criminals…and a mass murderer who left children orphans. Makes me ashamed to have graduated from UCI, to have donated to the ACLU and it makes me wonder how they can sleep at night. And I bet you almost anything you ask that not one of them has the decency to admit it.

  • Paul Lucas

    Im curious as to why no local federal electeds have asked for an investigation? Loretta, Ed, Mimi,? Hello? Beuller? Beuller?

    • Debby Bodkin

      My guess would be that the feds know that their inaction for the past several years exposes them to serious liability damages. In the interests of justice and the civil rights violations that have destroyed many careers and reputations in the OC, let’s hope that DA Rackauckas and his gang of Merry Republicans soon face a criiminal indictment.

    • LFOldTimer

      It’s one big club.

    • Jacki Livingston

      Because they all have dirt on each other.

  • Paul Lucas

    Im not holding my breath for the feds to actually do anything of substance

    • Jacki Livingston

      I am with you.