More Secret Records Come to Light in Snitch Scandal

Scott Sanders, public defender for Daniel Patrick Wozniak. (Photo credit:

New disclosures about Orange County sheriff’s deputies hiding another secret cache of records about jail informants is threatening to postpone the May 20 sentencing of convicted double-murderer Daniel Patrick Wozniak.

The new legal dispute is the latest in the informant scandal that has engulfed Orange County law enforcement for more than two years, resulting in multiple murder convictions being overturned because of constitutional rights violations by sheriff’s deputies and prosecutors.

On April 15, Scott Sanders, Wozniak’s public defender, filed a motion seeking additional evidence from the sheriff’s department after a deputy’s records unexpectedly appeared recently in another murder case.

In a response filed April 20, the County Counsel’s Office, which represents the Sheriff’s Department in such disputes, said it has begun a search to determine if deputies involved in the Wozniak case and others also have such records.

Friday, Judge John D. Conley said he needed more time to review the court filings, postponing until April 29 arguments in Superior Court in Santa Ana about whatever records emerge.

Last December, Wozniak was convicted by a jury of killing Samuel E. Herr, a Huntington Beach neighbor who he decapitated and dismembered; and then killing Herr’s friend, Juri “Julie” Kibuishi of Irvine, as part of a cover-up plot. He now faces a possible death sentence, which Sanders is seeking to block.

In some respects, the last minute legal maneuvering mirrors what occurred in the case of Scott Evans Dekraai — another Sanders client who was convicted in 2014 of the 2011 slaughter of eight people, including his ex-wife, in a Seal Beach beauty salon.

It was during the Dekraai case that Sanders first discovered the informants network and the constitutional abuses by prosecutors. Despite ongoing denials by the prosecution team, Sanders found that sheriff’s deputies kept secret computerized records (called TREDS) that revealed how informants were used in the jails.

Those TRED records were a significant factor in Judge Thomas M. Goethals’ remarkable decision in March 2015 to bar District Attorney Tony Rackauckas’ office from prosecuting the penalty phase of Dekraai’s trial. On behalf of Rackauckas, the state Attorney General’s Office is appealing Goethal’s ruling. Dekraai also faces the death penalty.

Then in February, Goethals was holding an evidentiary hearing for an Anaheim man — whose attorney alleged he was wrongfully convicted in 2006 of a double murder when prosecutors violated his rights involving informant testimony.

During that hearing, Robert S. Szewczyk, a deputy sheriff in the special handling unit for informants, surprised defense attorneys the day before he was to testify by turning over notes he kept on jail informants from 2004-2008.

Based on that and other prosecution irregularities involving informants, Goethals overturned the conviction of Henry Rodriguez for the 1998 murder of a pregnant Fullerton woman and her unborn fetus.

The 39-year-old Rodriguez maintained he was not involved in the killing, but did assist the convicted murderer in disposing the body of Jeanette Gomez Espeleta in the ocean off Long Beach. Rodriquez now faces a new trial.

Records ‘Washed Ashore’

In his recent motion in the Wozniak case, Sanders wrote that Szewcczyk’s were the type of notes he sought in the cases of Wozniak and Dekraai. But such records were never forthcoming, despite multiple subpoenas and related court questioning of deputies.

Not only were such actions violations of the defendants’ rights, Sanders noted, the notes also could provide favorable evidence for his clients, thereby undermining their ability to have a fair trial.

“Once again there is a reasonable possibility that special handling deputies maintained [informant]… notes that were not disclosed despite prior subpoenas because they were being concealed” or otherwise not produced, he wrote. He also cited testimony from another special handling deputy about “spring cleaning” to purge notes.

Speaking from the bench in the Rodriguez case, Goethals again was “surprised” that more law enforcement records about informants “washed ashore” — a phrase he used repeatedly in the Dekraai case as previously undisclosed evidence appeared unexpectedly.

While Goethals ruled in the Rodriguez case that the deputy’s notes weren’t relevant for admission at the hearing, he made it clear in bench comments that such records definitely should have been disclosed to the defense.

Had there been relevant information in the records, Goethals said, he would have unsealed them and provided them to the defense “in a heartbeat.”

The fact a deputy didn’t disclose so-called “private notes” was not “irrelevant,” Goethals said, “It just makes them secret. A cynic might say how many other such records are floating around out there.”

And in a bluntly worded message to Sheriff Sandra Hutchens about her deputies’ evidence handling, Goethals told the courtroom:

“There has to be some way that the sheriff can get across to her deputies you can’t create, essentially, a cache of private classification notes and information containing potentially relevant information and keep it to yourself.”

A spokesman for Hutchens said that after the notes were discovered internally, corrective action was taken, and deputies instructed on proper record-keeping procedures. A department-wide audit was conducted to check policy compliance.

In her April 20 motion, Elizabeth A. Pejeau, a deputy county counsel, said sheriff’s deputies are being canvassed to see who else may have kept such notes.

While she called Sanders request in the Wozniak case a “fishing expedition,” she wrote: “The purpose of this search is to not only to ensure complete responses to future discovery requests and subpoenas, but to produce records that would have been responsive to previous subpoenas.”

Some results of that survey are expected to be revealed at the April 29 hearing before Conley, but details may not emerge until the judge holds a private session to review any produced deputy notes.

Pejeau argued such records are part of daily work to protect inmate safety and therefore are exempt from disclosure. Their release, she added, could violate inmate privacy; and material only could be divulged after a confidential review by a judge.

The County Counsel’s Office made the similar arguments unsuccessfully when seeking to prevent disclosure of the TRED records in the Dekraai case.

If there was widespread practice of deputies keeping such notes and not disclosing them, the record would indicate that the informant scandal may be entering broader and potentially even more damaging chapter for law enforcement.

On May 6, Sanders will be filing a new motion including the results of the coming inquiries, with prosecutors responding on May 13.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that a spokesman for Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens did not respond to a request for comment. The spokesman did email a comment to the reporter, but it ended up in the reporter’s spam folder.

Rex Dalton is a San Diego-based journalist and frequent Voice of OC contributor. You can reach him directly at

  • Jacki Livingston

    I had high hopes for the Sheriff. However, she is way out of touch with the people. She ignored when employees reported crimes in three departments. She ignored a report of Spritzer using her officers as his personal thug service. Is she stoned or just stupid? Or, is she like the BoS, surrounded by overpaid cronies and staff that keep things from her for the profit of themselves and their criminal buddies? She is the top officer in the county, and she knows nothing about what is going on. What a waste.

  • LFOldTimer

    There’s another OCSD scandal right around the corner. For some reason VOC hasn’t reported on it.
    Within the next week a Superior Court Judge will decide whether Hutchens illegally fired 5 OCSD Assistant Sheriffs after her appointment by the Supervisors. As you recall, she replaced them with her homeboys from L.A. The plaintiffs have asked for $19 million (yes, you read that right. NINETEEN million). And that $19 million wouldn’t come out of Hutchen’s salary or pension. It wouldn’t come out of OCSD’s fat budget. You, the peasant taxpayer, would be on the hook for the entire $19 million.
    Seems like OCSD never learns. Remember George Jaramillo? Joanne Galinsky? Bill Hunt? Big legal payoffs after after being fired. It’s the latest way for a cop to hit the jackpot. Just get fired. It makes me wonder whether it’s all intentional? How could the county make the same screwy mistakes that many times in a row?
    Wouldn’t it seem reasonable for County Counsel to sign off on OCSD terminations to ensure everything is done in accordance with the law? Or do they already do that? Since these are county executive positions I assume that County Counsel is required to review the legalities of the terminations prior to execution. Who’s responsible?
    If the taxpayers get hit with another multi-million dollar judgment in this case heads should roll. But we know they won’t. They’ll just form another ad-hoc committee to study it or implement another training program and sweep all the dirt under the rug.
    You’ll hear the same old malarkey – “We have county business to do and can’t waste time looking back. Let’s move forward”.

    • Debby Bodkin

      As a non-attorney, I could be all wrong….. however, there is no doubt that County Counsel is covered by “legal malpractice” liability insurance. Errors in judgment, negligent legal advice will keep protecting “intentional” wrongdoings by County attorneys.

      If OC Sheriff Sandra Hutchens sought legal advice (before firing long term OC Sheriff employees) from the same legal defense law firms that the OC Board of Supervisors repeatedly approves (last time was in 2012), most of these law firms simultaneously represent clients that possess potential adverse interests, in violation of statutes that govern attorneys licensed to practice law. And, despite numerous reports to law enforcement about potential public corruption wrongdoing, the OC Board of Supervisors care less about the fair administration of justice both in and out of Orange County courts of law. The Supervisors, OC Sheriff, OC District Attorney and County Counsel lead with the mentality that the most wealth and politically-connections will always prevail over state/federal laws governing County attorneys and employees.

      Any damages that may be incurred based on Hutchens’ acts are the fault of the OC Board of Supervisors….. yet, will they ever be held responsible?

  • Paul Lucas

    Keep digging sanders!!

  • David Zenger

    I’d like to know why County Counsel is acting as a backdoor lawyer for the Sheriff and her dubious department. The Public Defender is also a County Department. You would think that would call for strict neutrality, except that nobody on the 5th, hence the 4th floor, wants to appear as anything but the staunchest pro-cop, tough-on-crime cheerleader.

    • Lauren

      What you are saying is that since both the OCDA and OCPD work for the county they must work on the same side for “strict neutrality.” That is an absurd lack of sense. The OCDA and the Sheriff both work on the side of *prosecution*. If they do not work together on criminal cases, then there would be no criminal justice.

      Snott Sanders is just an irrational tool, he claims that because he loses cases, the prosecutors should be stopped from prosecuting. He LOST the guilt phase of the case against Daniel Wozniak because he FAILED to raise any defenses. He LOST the penalty phase of the case against Daniel Wozniak because he failed to raise any mitigating factors. He is arguing that the death penalty should be taken off the table because he is LOSING the case against Scott Dekraai. Maybe Snott Sanders would find success if he was a competent attorney. Perhaps criminal law is not his forte. Maybe he should try real estate law or patents.

      Snott Sanders is so bad at defending cases, that he delayed the case against Daniel Wozniak for several years using nonsense motions because he wanted witnesses to die. Sanders is repugnant.

      • LFOldTimer

        You must be one of Tony’s girls. ha.

        Sanders has more integrity in the tip of his little pinky than both departments combined.

        Sanders for Superior Court Judge.

        Goethals for DA.

        • Lauren

          Sanders has ethics so jacked that he looks like he might he lose his mind within the next five years. I don’t know any of your other references since I don’t live anywhere near Orange County.

          I’m doing some fiction writing and the insane antics of Snott Sanders need to find there way in there. This guy is sickening. What he does to the families of victims of violent crime is disturbing on levels I did not know existed.

          • LFOldTimer

            Seems to me that it was the prosecution that harmed the victim’s families by lying on the witness stand and/or withholding material evidence in criminal cases, according to the Superior Court Judge. You see, in America the players in the justice system are supposed to play fair and follow the laws as set forth in the US Constitution. Otherwise we’re no better than North Korea. So go wag your finger at the guys in the big white hats who got caught dirty. They’re the ones who harmed the victim’s families. Not Sanders. Scott was just doing what he gets paid to do.

          • Lauren

            Nice rant. Do clarify, where in the case against Daniel Wozniak, where the families of the victims have suffered from Scott Sanders’ unethical behavior, is it the case, “that it was the prosecution that harmed the victim’s families by lying on the witness stand and/or withholding material evidence in criminal cases.”

            Remember, this article is about the latest postponement of sentencing for Daniel Wozniak. It is irrational to support any notion that Wozniak’s sentencing should be postponed for matters not related to *his* case.

          • LFOldTimer

            Go read the article again.

            I’ll prepare a multiple guess test for ya.

          • Lauren

            I did read the article and I know the case. Sanders has no defense for Wozniak that is why he raised no defense for Wozniak. He is flailing about like a toddler having a tantrum. Sanders has never even raised a claim that exculpatory evidence was withheld in the Wozniak case. If you can read at a fourth grade level, then you can read in the article that there is no mention of exculpatory evidence for Wozniak. If Sanders has made some discovery of exculpatory evidence, then that would be a matter for an appeal and not a matter for sentencing. No rational person is stupid enough to think that Sanders not being able to read documents not related the substance of the case would be grounds for removing the death penalty.

          • Lauren

            I can understand if you cannot respond to me with anything salient as I have read your posts a few times.

          • Rivett

            “I’m doing some fiction writing”

            Ha, that’s putting it mildly.

          • David Zenger

            Yeah. The best fiction of all: “I don’t live anywhere near Orange County.”

      • Rivett

        For someone so bad at his job, Sanders sure is doing a good job making the OCSD and DA look crooked and incompetent.

        • David Zenger

          Yeah, pretty funny. He’s been running circles around the ninnies at the DAs office; the deputies are taking the Fifth. Looks a lot like winning to me.

          • Lauren

            If by winning you mean he looks like he’s having a tantrum because someone won’t change his wet diaper, then yeah, “winning.” I would worry about the justice system if deputies shared anything with Sanders.

          • David Zenger

            By winning, I mean getting the DA thrown of a case by a judge; by having defendants ordered new trials.By uncovering the corruption of the OCSD and the OCDDA.

            As far as tantrums go, I submit that sort of behavior is much closer to that of the self-righteous DA, his soldiers and their spokeswoman.

          • Rivett

            Speaking of tantrums and soldiers, whatever happened with the DA investigator who beat the crap out of a defense attorney in front of a crowd in the courthouse?

          • Lauren

            In answer to: Speaking of tantrums and soldiers, whatever happened with the DA investigator who beat the crap out of a defense attorney in front of a crowd in the courthouse?

            He claimed self-defense. Each side had a different story to how it happened. The final assessment is that the attorney started the fight and the investigator defended himself.

            When you look at the two original stories together, the fight began as an argument with profanities exchanged. D.A. Investigator Dillon Alley was walking away and claims that defense attorney James Crawford hit him in the face. Crawford says that Alley turned around hit Crawford. The brawl ensued with Crawford falling backward and hitting Alley in the torso, while Alley hit Crawford in the face.

            Three witnesses to the brawl were potential witnesses in the criminal trial that sparked the argument. The trial was against Adrian Arroyo and had been halted while on the verge of jury selection because of the courthouse fight. The three witnesses had “witnessed a bloody fight at a Lake Forest nightclub in 2014 that led to Arroyo facing assault with a deadly weapon charges.” The witnesses were accused of trying to help Arroyo get a dismissal as a result of seeing this fight.

            The defense’s motion to recuse the OCDA in the Arroyo case was shot down quickly, as it should be. Investigation with witness statements from law enforcement show that Crawford tried to continue the fight as Alley tried to break away and Crawford further continued fighting as sheriff deputies tried to break up the fight.

          • Rivett

            You’re so well informed for a fiction writer not even from OC.

            So someone who attacked a DA investigator in front of another DA investigator witness walked away without being in handcuffs? Pardon my French, but that’s 100% bullshit. It doesn’t matter what they say happened, just look at what they do, or in this case, don’t do.

            As for the veracity of a DA report clearing DA staff of any wrongdoing, the thing speaks for itself.

          • Lauren

            I’m not a fiction writer, I am an analyst. I am writing a piece of fiction. My work for the past 25 years has been business writing and some non-fiction article writing. I want to do some fiction writing for fun.

            Sanders is inventive and sensational, he would make a great character or evil villain. He would pair well with Dr. Geordie Duckler, an animal rights attorney in Oregon who represents dog thieves, arguing that innocent animal owners should give up their rights to the thieves. Animal Rights is the opposite of Animal Ownership and animal rights works to end animal ownership. Duckler supports this plan.

            Duckler is currently representing a dog seller that is suing a Hawaii humane society because the seller wants the right to sell the humane society’s dogs for a profit. Duckler was recently busted in a prostitution sting and paid a fine for that. So Duckler has his own ethical vacuum that is on par with that of Sanders.

            I think a character that is a combination of Sanders and Duckler would make for a very sinister character.

      • David Zenger

        Lauren, thanks for your charming comment.

        I can’t figure out what you thought I said so I’ll say it again. I said County Counsel is the lawyer for the County. The Public Defender is a County Department – just like the DA and the Sheriff. County Counsel should be neutral in its dealings with these issues since it is the lawyer that ultimately represents all three. Got it now? Really not that difficult. And as far as Sanders is concerned, I and a lot of other folks view him as a hero. Rackaukas and Hutchens? Miscreants who are less interested in justice than in convictions.

        • Lauren

          I deleted that comment. It is hard to keep track Snott Sanders’ targets as he flails through irrational claims that may have some small fact hidden within them like a needle in a haystack.

          What you are saying, though, is that “the County Counsel’s Office, which represents the Sheriff’s Department in such disputes” should not represent the Sheriff and “should be neutral in its dealings” because you say it represents all three. That may be true of the office but it cannot be true of the lawyers appointed to represent each side. The lawyers representing the Sheriff must only represent the Sheriff. If the County Counsel’s Office also represent the Public Defender, then that would have to be a different person or people.

          I am commenting here because of Sander’s unethical dealings in the Wozniak case. He delayed the case so that witnesses would die before trial, he never raised a defense for his client, and he never asserted any mitigating factors for why his client did not deserve the death penalty. Now, he is arguing that Wozniak should not be sentenced to death because Sanders does not like the way OCSD handled the Dekraai case. Never mind the fact that Sanders did not bother to defend Wozniak. Even the guilty deserve a defense.

          I do not live near Orange County but you guys and your sensational dynamics are making the news a lot. Sanders is making himself out to be laughing stock as an irrational crybaby. It’s weird entertainment. One day, some sitcom writer will come up with a great role for Snott.

          • David Zenger

            Do not put quotation marks around something I didn’t say.

            Your point about separate lawyers defending separate clients is apt – so far as it goes. However, the County Counsel takes its marching orders from five politicians who have very little inclination to serve justice – rather they are intent on protecting malfeasance in both the DAs office and the Sheriff’s department, and unfortunately disparaging the OCPD, evidently.

            If you think Sanders is making himself a laughing stock, you are probably the only person on the planet who thinks so.

          • Lauren

            I quoted both the article and your response to it. You are saying that Rex Dalton is wrong when he states, “the County Counsel’s Office, which represents the Sheriff’s Department in such disputes,” and you instead claim, the County Counsel “should be neutral in its dealings.” I want you to address why you are contradicting what Rex Dalton said. Only one of you can be right.

            If Rex Dalton is correct that County Counsel represents the Sheriff, then County Counsel is correct in protecting the Sheriff from OCPD and you are incorrect when you say that County Counsel should be neutral.

            I do not live in a county with the legal chaos of Orange County. This is very hilarious, especially when Scott Sanders raises claims he says are fact-based and then fails to provide facts. Sometimes he can find some fact, like low-level negligence, but then he does something stupid with that fact. He has become histrionic and emotional for no other reason then he has guilty defendants with no defenses. He has become irrational and unethical in the case against Daniel Wozniak and has raised arguments concerning the Scott Dekraai case as being relevant to Wozniak. That is bizarre. Way bizarre.

          • David Zenger

            You don’t get it. County Counsel is told what to do by the Board of Supervisors – politicians. They are also in charge of the OCPD.

            The Sheriff should have an independent lawyer and pay for the service, just like she should be paying for the OIR.

            As for Sanders, a lot of people see a hard-working defense counsel and admire his willingness to take on a corrupt DA. But not being from anywhere near Orange County you wouldn’t know anything about that, right?

          • Lauren

            You are contradicting Rex Dalton. I ask you why you did that. He says that County Counsel represents the Sheriff and you say the Sheriff should hire outside attorneys. You do not make sense in your contradiction.

            You guys in Orange County really like drama and histrionics.

          • David Zenger

            No, I am disagreeing with the probity of the arrangement. County Counsel hasn’t been impartial in this dispute between the Sheriff and the PD, and they should be.

          • Lauren

            County Counsel should *never* be impartial when representing a party. The County Counsel represents the Sheriff and must be biased toward the Sheriff and aggressive in representation of the Sheriff. What you are saying is silly.

          • David Zenger

            No, what I am saying is the County Counsel shouldn’t be representing the Sheriff in this matter at all. Why can’t you get that through your head? I’m writing in plain English.

          • Lauren

            You are doing an excellent job of repeating yourself and you are not answering my question. You can repeat yourself all you want but none of that will result in an answer. Let me be pedantic for you. In this case, County Counsel is representing the Sheriff. By representing the Sheriff in a legal capacity, County Counsel must aggressively defend the Sheriff’s interest. You have said that County Counsel should not represent the Sheriff, yet you have not said why. Why are you being so aggressive in your refusal to defend your claim?

          • David Zenger

            Good bye nutsy-cuckoo.

          • Lauren

            I asked you why you argued that the County Council’s Office should not do its job of representing the Sheriff. I never thought that asking you to support your assertion would make run away because having to think about why you made such an odd claim would make you “nutsy-cuckoo.”

            Maybe this can be a learning experience for you, that you should think about why you say something before you say it, since someone may ask why you hold strange opinions.

          • David Zenger

            Please remember to take your meds before bed tonight.

          • CitizenVet

            First, County Counsel doesn’t represent the Public Defenders Office. Second, Sanders, far from being the “cry baby” you describe, is defending his client as we speak; so your comment about not defending his client makes no sense. You mention his “unethical dealings” in the case, but don’t state what they are. He has pointed out where the sheriffs and DAs broke the law in these cases. Is that unethical? You say that even the guilty deserve a defense, and you are absolutely correct. However, there are some cases where it is almost impossible to put on much of a defense beyond arguing mitigating factors and making sure that the State plays by the rules in prosecuting their case. That is essentially what Sanders did in the Wozniak case, as far as I know. Perhaps you know something I don’t, however.

          • Lauren

            I asked David why he said that the County Counel’s office should represent the PD and not represent the Sheriff. The County Counsel’s Office may represent county agencies provided that the representation is not in conflict with the Board of Supervisors. Davide refuses to answer my question of why he keeps saying that county counsel should not represent the Sheriff.

            I was clear when I said Sanders was unethical when he delayed the Wozniak case without any reason for the delays, other than to wait for witnesses to die. You can read my posts again. I also stated that Sanders has caused the families of Wozniak’s victims great pain and heartache with his unethical dealings in the Wozniak case. He is now trying to use nonsense to further delay the Wozniak case. All of these things are unethical under the Business and Professions Code.

            Scott Sanders has also been unethical by resubmitting pleadings to a court after those pleadings were dismissed. He also argues points from the Dekraai case in the Wozniak case without showing any nexus or relevance between those points and the Wozniak case.

            When you mention that Sanders had no defense for Wozniak and did argue mitigating factors, you are wrong on both counts. Sanders could have come up with some defense for Wozniak; it may not be successful, but as I have said, even the guilty deserve a defense. As far as mitigating factors against the death penalty, he offered none. He said that Wozniak was friendly to people in jail. That is by no means a mitigating factor.

    • Debby Bodkin

      It is a Win/Win for the County of Orange….. in the real world, most would call County of Orange legal strategies a RICO enterprise. My personal opinion.