The election-season battle between Supervisor Todd Spitzer and District Attorney Tony Rackauckas has taken another turn, with the two DA candidates clashing over whether Spitzer should be kept out of county supervisors’ closed-door discussions on whether to settle legal claims filed by three DA investigators against the county.
The latest feud began Monday, when Rackauckas sent a letter to all five supervisors saying Spitzer shouldn't be allowed to participate in the discussions, including one Tuesday that Rackauckas was invited to join.
“Supervisor Spitzer should not attend Tuesday’s closed door meeting and should be recused from all future discussions related to the subject matter,” Rackauckas wrote in his letter to supervisors Monday, a copy of which was obtained by Voice of OC.
“As a candidate for district attorney, Supervisor Spitzer benefits from harming the incumbent District Attorney’s reputation and public perception; thereby strengthening his campaign in the upcoming election," Rackauckas wrote.
But Spitzer said County Counsel Leon Page, who advises the supervisors and other county agencies, disagreed.
“County counsel informed me tonight that all of [Rackauckas’] claims are bogus and I have absolutely no conflict. Indeed it's actually my absolute duty to attend,” Spitzer wrote in a text message Monday evening to Voice of OC.
Rackauckas’ letter did not name the investigators whose claims are being reviewed by the supervisors. But three DA investigators filed legal claims in May alleging, among other things, that Rackauckas interfered in corruption investigations of his political allies.
Among those who filed claims is Craig Hunter, the former chief of the DA’s investigations division.
It’s up to county supervisors to decide whether to settle the claims, which would prevent lawsuits. It takes three of the five supervisors to authorize a settlement.
During their closed session discussion Tuesday, supervisors “will consider settlement offers” to resolve the investigators’ claims, according to Rackauckas’ letter.
If supervisors agree to exclude Spitzer, Rackauckas would be able to provide supervisors his arguments related to settling the legal claims, without Spitzer there to question or challenge him.
Rackauckas also claimed in his letter to supervisors that one reason Spitzer is running for DA is to benefit himself financially.
“Supervisor Spitzer likely has a host of personal reasons – economic and noneconomic – to be elected district attorney,” Rackauckas wrote.
Spitzer, in turn, called Rackauckas “really pathetic and desperate.”
In his May legal claim, Hunter alleged Rackauckas violated numerous laws, allowed his chief of staff to work on a fundraiser for Rackauckas during county work time, and interfered with political corruption investigations into his political allies.
He also also alleged Rackauckas failed to file disclosures, mandated by state law, that money was raised under his name for a charity event that promoted his chief of staff’s business partner.
And Hunter claims Rackauckas fired him in April in retaliation for testifying to the county grand jury about wrongdoing at the DA’s office.
Rackauckas’ office has disputed Hunter’s claim, saying in a statement it was “filled with false [allegations] and factually inaccurate information” and that it was submitted “clearly with the goal of trying to get money from Orange County Taxpayers.”
Hunter’s attorney later filed a Public Records Act request seeking documents about the DA’s criminal probes of three high-profile elected officials whom Rackauckas declined to prosecute: Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido, county Supervisor Andrew Do, and state Sen. Janet Nguyen (R-Garden Grove).
Two other DA investigators, Tom Conklin and Abraham Santos, followed up later in May with legal claims alleging they reported misconduct within the office to higher-ups but faced retaliation for whistle-blowing, especially after testifying to the Orange County Grand Jury.
Among the allegations, Santos said one of Rackauckas’ top executives interfered with an investigation into former Fullerton Police Chief Dan Hughes, by telling Santos they wouldn’t look into an alleged cover-up of the former city manager’s drunk driving because he and the chief are friends.
Santos said he told Assistant District Attorney Ebrahim Baytieh that he was concerned about a possible cover-up of the city manager’s DUI and criminal obstruction of justice by Hughes.
According to the investigator, Baytieh responded: “I am friends with Chief Hughes and we are only going to be investigating the DUI and not anything else.”
The DA’s office has said it can’t comment on Santos’ claim because it relates to “personnel matters involving litigation.”
Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.