Spitzer Calls for Federal Takeover of OC District Attorney’s Office

NICK GERDA, Voice of OC

District Attorney Tony Rackauckas (left) and county Supervisor Todd Spitzer.

Supervisor Todd Spitzer is urging federal law enforcement officials to “take control” of the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, citing what he describes as “continuing revelations of scandal emerging from the office under D.A. Tony Rackauckas.”

Spitzer, a political foe of Rackauckas’ who is preparing to run for DA next year, requested the federal Justice Department takeover in a letter Monday to its leader, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

“Immediate action is necessary in order to prevent further damage by our elected D.A. and reverse eroding public confidence in our judicial system. The depth, denial and cover-up of serious misconduct threatens the foundation of our criminal justice system,” Spitzer wrote in his letter.

Among alleged wrongdoing, Spitzer cited accusations Rackauckas interfered in political corruption investigations, as well as the ongoing jailhouse informants scandal, in which an appeals court ruled the DA’s office repeatedly violated the constitutional rights of defendants.

“I am respectfully requesting that you expand the current Department of Justice investigation into new allegations of corruption and documented misconduct. As it is within your power to do so, I urge you to take control [of] the OCDA office by consent decree.”

A Justice Department official confirmed Spitzer’s letter was received but said the department would not be commenting further.

(Click here to read Spitzer’s letter to the Attorney General.)

Rackauckas’ office responded forcefully, accusing Spitzer of using his public office to campaign for DA.

“It is unfortunate that Todd Spitzer is using his current position as a County Supervisor to campaign for the office of the District Attorney, a position he so desperately covets.  Meanwhile, he is slandering prosecutors and OCDA personnel with his false allegations in an effort to fuel his ambition and create the appearance of credibility,” the DA’s office said a statement.

“Perhaps his latest political rant is intended to divert the public’s attention from the loss of his recent lawsuit regarding his self-incriminating manifesto detailing the episode in which he handcuffed an evangelist in a fast food restaurant and/or the pending litigation from a former employee outlining his ‘raging temper’ and “practice of governing his office through means of fear and aggression.” 

“The OCDA fully anticipates Supervisor Spitzer will continue to abuse his position and the ridiculous allegations will continue as we draw closer to the election.”

The lawsuit referenced by the DA’s office involves an April 2015 incident in which Spitzer handcuffed an evangelist at a Wahoo’s Fish Taco restaurant in Lake Forest. Voice of OC filed a public records lawsuit after being denied access to a draft opinion article Spitzer wrote about the incident and related emails. Earlier this month, a judge ordered disclosure of the op-ed and emails.

Additionally, one of Spitzer’s longest-serving staff members at the county, Christine Richters, recently filed a lawsuit saying Spitzer 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.

Spitzer, his letter, noted the DA’s former chief investigator recently alleged Rackauckas interfered in political corruption investigations of his political allies. The former chief investigator, Craig Hunter, also alleged Rackauckas’ chief of staff, Susan Kang Schroeder, worked on a fundraiser for Rackauckas during county working hours she was paid for and used Rackauckas’ name to promote her business partner in a personal side business.

“It is typical for Rackauckas to attack every messenger just like he did on 60 Minutes,” Spitzer said in a statement reacting to the DA’s comments.

“These are not my allegations. These are the charges of his Chief Investigator and the Courts. It saddens me to realize that Rackauckas believes that letting murderers go free by botching cases and authorizing an illegal snitch program is simply ‘politicking.’ It underscores the need for oversight to take charge [of] the DA’s office,”

“I’ve simply asked the US Attorney General to expand its scope into these continuing charges of criminality by Rackauckas.”

Spitzer’s letter comes on the heels of a nationally-televised ’60 Minutes’ segment about the informants scandal, during which Rackauckas rejected allegations his prosecutors illegally used secret jailhouse informants and withheld information from defense attorneys.

A state appeals court, meanwhile, has ruled the DA’s office systemically violated detainees’ constitutional rights.

The DA’s office, appeals justices wrote, engaged in “grave” misconduct, by participating in “a covert [informants] program to obtain statements from represented defendants in violation of their constitutional rights, and to withhold that information from those defendants in violation of their constitutional and statutory rights.”

So far at least six defendants have had their convictions for murder or other major crimes overturned for rights violations by the DA’s use of informants.

The DA’s office and Sheriff’s Department are now under federal and state investigation over the informants issue, and the Orange County Grand Jury is conducting its own probe.

And just last week, in a completely separate case from the informants, Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals barred Rackauckas’ office from prosecuting first-degree murder charges due to what he called “serious misconduct” by prosecutors.

In that case, the judge said prosecutors “intentionally withheld” evidence that law enforcement altered police reports that could have helped the defendant’s case, and the reports were later intentionally destroyed.

“When the trial prosecutor was repeatedly put on notice that there were irregularities involving the investigation of his case—twice by members of his own prosecution team–he was constitutionally obliged to address the issue. He did not,” Goethals wrote in his ruling.

Spitzer was once a top deputy to Rackauckas and was considered his heir apparent. But Rackauckas fired him in 2010 after Spitzer began investigating alleged wrongdoing at a county office where the DA’s then-fiancée was second-in-command.

The two have feuded openly ever since.

Spitzer now is gearing up to run for District Attorney in the primary election next June.

Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.