Santana: Handcuffing Journalists

Todd Spitzer

Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer and Hillary Clinton share a common challenge.

They don’t want you focused on their emails.

Yet Spitzer – who is keyed on becoming our next DA, gets particularly nasty about the topic if you dare press.

Spitzer and his colleagues on the Orange County Board of Supervisors are targeting me personally for harassment in court this week because a Voice of OC reporter sought a series of emails between Spitzer and county spokeswoman Jean Pasco earlier this year for a story about a bizarre incident where Spitzer handcuffed a man while armed at a Wahoo’s restaurant in Foothill Ranch on last year’s Good Friday holiday.

It’s a new low for a county board of supervisors increasingly hell bent on secrecy.

On Tuesday, our attorneys will head into court to quash a bullying deposition request from the county – aimed at me personally – because Voice of OC filed suit to access the Spitzer records under the California Public Records Act.

(Click here for Spitzer’s side of the story, and here for the county’s court filing in response to the Voice of OC lawsuit.)

I’ll also be talking about the case this week on PBS So Cal with host Rick Reiff on his news broadcast, Inside OC.

(Click here for our legal brief filed last week on the issue.)

Under the leadership of Spitzer, the county of Orange wants to establish ominous case law, out of our own Superior Court, seeking the right to subject journalists to government-funded interrogations for simply seeking public records.

Under Spitzer’s thinking, whenever you challenge a denial of a public record by the county of Orange, you become the issue, not the record.

That’s not only dangerous to democracy but profoundly un-American.

That kind of a politicized witch hunt also happens to run contrary to the very core of our state’s shield law for journalists as well as our First Amendment reporters’ privilege – which is what allows reporters to do their job and engage with all sides on controversial issues.

Our brilliant litigator Kelly Aviles summarized the concept effectively in her brief, quoting a 2014 local court decision: “The motive of the particular requester in seeking public records is irrelevant, and the California Public Records Act does not differentiate among those who seek access to them. Moreover, the purpose for which the requested records are to be used is likewise irrelevant.

What is material is the public interest in disclosure not the private interest of the requesting party.” Aviles added that much of the county’s legal brief “makes many arguments that lack any legal support, misinterpret the cited case law or contravene existing law.”

We don’t live in North Korea…

Now, Spitzer has clearly stated he favors that kind of government, publicly stating his view that he wants all county supervisors’ communications with county staff to be secret.

And he’s got the backing from his colleagues to try to pull that off, especially when politicians like Supervisor Andrew Do and Supervisor Lisa Bartlett are aggressively breaking new ground when it comes to campaigning with public resources – currently spending hundreds of thousands in taxpayer dollars on a wave of county mailers seemingly designed to compliment their own re-election campaigns.

Yet according to sources close to county supervisors, going after journalists with depositions is a Spitzer special order.

One county supervisor, Shawn Nelson, has even voiced public opposition to the deposition order arguing it’s un-American. Other supervisors have remained quiet.

Our colleagues at the Orange County Register’s editorial page also lent their own support to our case, calling on the County of Orange to stop wasting taxpayer resources with such bullying tactics.

Indeed, threatening journalists sends a simple message.

Back off or else.

Our response is just as straightforward.

We aren’t going anywhere.

More Spitzer Staff Moves

Speaking of going places, it wasn’t but just a few weeks ago that I wrote about the implications of having a high-priced political aide, like Irvine City Councilman Jeff Lalloway, abruptly join Spitzer’s staff – reportedly at $190,000 annually.

Spitzer recently has been going through staffers like a set of cheap tires.

There are so many former top staffers that there’s reportedly a survivors group – SOS, Survivors of Spitzer – that meets occasionally.

I recently wrote that Spitzer’s chief of staff George Cardenas might be the next in trouble.

Days after that column ran, Spitzer reportedly moved on his own chief of staff.

The plot gets even thicker as this week, as Cardenas has moved over to work in Nelson’s office.

The implications for Spitzer get even stickier now as questions will certainly arise as how he will insulate Lalloway (whose Irvine City Council is often locking horns with the county in court) from myriad confidential county counsel opinions that are often automatically shared with chiefs of staff like him.

Given that both are attorneys it will be interesting to see how the firm of Lalloway/Spitzer operates now that they are virtually the only two employees left in the Third District.

As Spitzer – who reportedly rarely shows up at his office inside the Hall of Administration in downtown Santa Ana – gears up for his long awaited DA run, maybe this signals a changing of the guard at the Third District, with Lalloway increasingly running the show and in a position to run the office if Spitzer wins his dream job in 2018.