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.

  • octaxpayer

    Interesting how the BOS always wants to be above the law and have no transparency. Always looking after themselves.. One other note in some case the BOS was not using County email systems anyway and held personal email systems, so good luck.

  • Daniel Lamb

    Obviously, I would love to pour over every single correspondence from and to a public (or quasi-public) official in Orange County so as to find the smoking gun and expose the establishment as a farce. And this is certainly no defense of HRC. But this email thing warrants a more developed discussion. As such, I must opine in the most general sense.

    Do we want our attorneys to be able to freely and frankly discuss legal issues with client without the fear of having the contents of those discussions bust open for public or judicial scrutiny? What about discussions between journalists and sources?

    So why do we not value frank exchanges among government officials? Does fear of having correspondence made public hamper the work of government and therefore does that fear do a disservice to the public interest? Obviously this is a balancing act, but no one is on the balance beam.

    Moreover, if “journalists” do have some sort of special privilege under the First Amendment (I’m actually pretty sure they don’t under current case law) should they not be subject to records requests as they serve a public function and are therefore quasi-public officials. In that light, deposing you does not seem absurd.

    What if you were looking for public documents that pertain to a private individual? What if many would consider those documents private? What if you were planning on using the documents to further the interests of the people who pay your salary? Not exactly unthinkable these days…

  • Jacki Livingston

    Hey, Norberto? I have a question. Seems that Toddy is having some kind of big show tomorrow in Orange on Elder Abuse. What a coinky dinky! For years, I have been telling anyone who would listen that Spitzer is covering up abuse of the elderly and disabled in OC Nursing Homes, many of which are being run by corrupt organized crime, and being aided in their crimes by officials at SSA. Well, how funny is it that Todd is having this Town Hall, but nothing is announced here? Most likely because Spitzer knows I would be all over that. So, kids, why do you think Toddy would be having such an event? Hmmmm? Maybe to look good to seniors, who vote? Or maybe to head off critics. He committed horribly unethical acts, to avoid testifying in court, and he is now trying to cover up. Hey, Todd, I will be there with bells on, pal, and YOU will be answering MY questions, about your role in organized crime using nursing homes.

  • John Claxton

    What happened in court today?

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  • LFOldTimer

    I loved your comparison of Hillary and Spitzer, Norberto.

    But Spitzer didn’t bleach any, right?

    Hopefully they won’t find any county emails on Tony Weiner’s computer. After all, he had 650,000. 🙂

    Thanks for being a media guy who is truly interested in exposing government shenanigans. You’re a rare bird these days.

  • astar2b

    Why not DA Chief of Staff Kang take the DA position?

    • Rivett

      Because she’s one of the few who are just as bad as Rackauckas is or Spitzer would be?

      • David Zenger

        Or because she tried one case – a parking ticket or other – and LOST it!

  • Paul Lucas

    I dont think alot of this will matter re: the DA Race unless someone steps up to challenge him. I wish Judge Goethals would run for DA.

  • Ed Romero

    I wish someone was around to HANDCUFF that corrupt Asst. Chief Probation Officer and her Gang of Drug Dealers that use to make drug deliveries right into her Office while on duty. She use to smoke so much Marijuana while on duty that my co-workers gave her the AKA/Marijuana Nancy. Oh I forgot she was a member of the Orange County GOP Central Committee and the Penal Code does not apply to them just ask both of those former Orange County Sheriff’s.

    • Paul Lucas

      ?? Who are you talking about?

  • Allan Bartlett

    Great column Norberto. Spitzer is become no more unhinged every day.

    • David Zenger

      Quit lookin’ at that knife Bartlett.

      • Allan Bartlett

        Todd was boasting yesterday on his Facebook about seeing some lady “rolling a joint” in the parking lot of a gym. I sarcastically asked him if he made another citizens arrest. He deleted my comment.

        • David Zenger

          Don’t you just feel safer with Todd on the job? I, for one, had been just worried sick about the dramatic rise in butter knife attacks in OC.

          • Allan Bartlett

            The world is filled with dangerous “bible boys” and joint rollers Dave. Spitzer will protect us.

          • David Zenger

            The world is a dangerous place. We need warriors to defend us. Well, sane people, anyway.

          • Jacki Livingston

            Question is, if you end up in a nursing home, how much of a cut does Todd take when they steal your home and life savings, and rip off the taxpayers?

          • All the more reason to start registering butter knives in this county.

        • Jacki Livingston

          Don’t feel bad, he blocked me, because I criticized his ties with corrupt nursing homes.

  • David Zenger

    I really think there is a serious mental illness going on here.

    • Jacki Livingston

      Lucky dog…