A former aide to Supervisor Todd Spitzer has filed a lawsuit alleging he ran his office through “fear and aggression,” forced his staff to be on-call at all hours of the night, and required them to work shifts of up to 24 hours at a time.
The suit was filed Friday against Spitzer and the county government by Christine Richters, a former executive aide who worked for Spitzer for three and a half years, until this past October. She also is a former Spitzer law client and a paid staffer on his 2012 campaign for supervisor.
Spitzer didn’t return calls Monday for comment. County spokeswoman Carrie Braun declined to comment, citing a county policy not to talk about pending litigation.
In her suit, Richters alleged Spitzer required his employees, including hourly workers like she was, “to be on stand-by 24 hours per day, 7 days per week to respond to any text message” he sent them.
As evidence of the on-call requirements, she included what she described as a memo Spitzer sent his staff saying his text messages “are to be responded to within 15 minutes of receipt unless there is an overriding excuse.”
If this policy is violated, Spitzer warned, “an hour of your pay will be docked.”
“The work environment in [Spitzer’s] office was extremely stressful due to the unrealistic demands [Spitzer] placed upon the employees, as well as [Spitzer’s] raging temper that he often directed at the employees,” according to Richters’ law suit.
“[Spitzer’s] temper caused [Richters] to suffer from severe health issues including, but not limited to, weight loss, hair loss, sleepless nights, stress, anxiety, and depression.”
Richters said she sought a transfer to another county job for over two months, and was helped with that by the human resources department. But, she said, Spitzer directed his chief of staff not to help her with the transfer, and told Richter “No one leaves Spitzer unless they’re fired.”
Richters said she wasn’t hired for another county position, and Spitzer fired her in October.
At the core of Richters’ case is her claim that Spitzer and the county illegally discriminated against her and fired her based on the stress and anxiety he caused.
Given all the hours Richters said employees were required to work, she also claims the county failed to pay her and other county employees the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, and violated federal requirements that overtime be compensated at time-and-a-half.
Spitzer, who is widely believed to be planning to run for district attorney in the June 2018 election, has had a high staff turnover.
He has had five chiefs of staff in the last five years, more than any other supervisor. His most recent chief of staff to leave, Irvine City Councilman Jeff Lalloway, resigned just four months after he took the job.
Richters was one of the longest-serving members of Spitzer’s original staff he brought on after taking office in January 2013. She worked for Spitzer for about three and a half years, from February 2013 to October 2016.
Before that, she was one of Spitzer’s legal clients in a case against District Attorney Tony Rackauckas.
In December 2011, Spitzer filed a public records lawsuit on behalf of Richters against Rackauckas, centered around the prosecution of an Orange High School teacher for having a sexual relationship with Richters’ then-17-year-old daughter. The teacher, Scott Adrian Peterson, was later convicted and sentenced to 16 months in jail.
In her suit against the DA, Richters said she supported the prosecution and had given written consent for Orange city police to search her daughter’s phone after her daughter objected. The search revealed explicit photos that were important for the criminal case.
During the prosecution, the teacher’s attorney was seeking to have the evidence thrown out, claiming it was obtained in an illegal search.
Richters filed a Public Records Act request with the DA’s office for records that can be disclosed to victims, later saying she wanted to know if police accurately documented her actions and performed their search legally.
The DA opposed the request, arguing Richters was not a victim under the records law. Her request was denied by Judge Jamoa A. Moberly in a ruling on March 12, 2012.
Soon after losing that case, Spitzer began to pay Richters for campaign work in his June 2012 run for supervisor, according to campaign finance filings.
The records show Spitzer paid Richters $1,500 in campaign funds between March 18 and June 15, 2012, plus a $1,500 “bonus” after winning the election. He labeled the payments in the category “campaign paraphernalia/misc.”
After taking office in January 2013, Spitzer hired Richters as an executive aide.
Richters is represented in her lawsuit against Spitzer by attorneys Devon M. Lyon and Jennifer F. Hooshmand, who are based in the Los Angeles County town of Signal Hill.
Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at [email protected].