County Supervisor Todd Spitzer joined Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors closed session discussion of legal claims filed by three District Attorney investigators in spite of claims by his political rival, DA Tony Rackauckas, that it was a possible conflict of interest.
Spitzer decided to attend the session after County Counsel Leon Page said Spitzer had no legal conflict and confirmed the county would defend him legally should the DA file a complaint to an agency like the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC).
Rackauckas alleged in a letter to supervisors Monday that Spitzer should be kept out of closed sessions involving potential settlements of the investigators’ claims.
He argued Spitzer’s candidacy for DA in 2018 created a potential conflict of interest.
Tuesday’s board meeting closed session discussed legal claims filed by three DA investigators against the county for alleged cover-ups and interference by Rackauckas and his top deputies in investigations, including probes into political corruption.
According to Rackauckas’ letter, Spitzer benefits from “harming the incumbent District Attorney’s reputation and public perception” which would “thereby [be] strengthening his campaign in the upcoming election.”
“The more egregious Supervisor Spitzer could characterize the District Attorney’s alleged misconduct, the better for candidate Spitzer,” the letter reads.
Rackauckas asked that Spitzer be recused from Tuesday’s and any future closed session discussions because of an “irreconcilable conflict of interest.”
Spitzer asked Page on Tuesday whether any issues raised by Rackauckas’ letter “rise to the level of any conflict [of interest].”
Page said the conflict of interest claims were “simply not true” and told the board the expectation of holding a future office, a political position or a candidacy for a political office “are not interests that are recognized either under common law or under the [California] Political Reform Act.”
“I respectfully disagree with the district attorney,” Page said before supervisors went into closed session. “I feel very comfortable here advising Supervisor Spitzer that he can participate in the closed sessions today.”
Spitzer claimed the DA is making it clear he will do “everything in his power” to stop him from running or “try to figure out things to use against [him],” and asked Page whether the county would represent him legally should Rackauckas choose to file a claim with the FPPC over his decision to attend the session.
“If he files any action against me with an enforcement agency, is the county going to defend me?” Spitzer asked Page.
“I believe that the county is obligated to defend you for actions you take within the course and scope of your office, so yes,” Page said.
Spitzer mentioned Tuesday’s meeting would not be the first time he has participated in a closed session matter regarding the district attorney, having previously discussed DA former chief investigator Craig Hunter’s legal claim with the board, and questioned why this was the first time the DA did not want him to join the discussion.
“What if any [communication] by the District Attorney did we receive at that time to object to my participation in that closed session?” Spitzer asked the county counsel on Tuesday. “Because I did participate and there was a robust conversation with the board members, and I did interact with the district attorney at that time.”
Page said the DA’s letter Monday “was the first time to my knowledge this objection was raised.”
Chairwoman Steel said the DA’s conflict of interest allegations could be attributed to Spitzer’s formal announcement July 10 that he would run for DA. Spitzer responded it was “probably the biggest secret in this county that I was contemplating running for District Attorney.”
According to Rackauckas’ letter, the closed session discussion included the possibility of settling the investigators’ claims.
According to Hunter’s legal claim filed in May, “Rackauckas interfered in political corruption criminal investigations in the County of Orange, involving candidates that he endorsed politically.”
Hunter and the other two investigators alleged retaliation from high-ranking DA officials for testifying before the Orange County Grand Jury.
Rackauckas was invited to Tuesday’s closed session to discuss the legal claims, according to his letter.
The DA waited outside the room during Tuesday’s discussion because the supervisors did not have any questions for him, Spitzer said in a text message to Voice of OC.
Spitzer said he attended the full closed session discussion of the legal claims.
There were no decisions reported from the Tuesday’s discussions.
As he spoke with reporters before heading into the closed session, Spitzer jokingly suggested the possible conversation between himself and Rackauckas might devolve into a fistfight.
Spitzer had told the reporters he could confirm after the session if Rackauckas attended, but would be prohibited from revealing what was said.
“Now if there was like, fists, uh – you know, blows, exchanged, I’m not sure I’d [be able to disclose that], but you might be interested in that though, huh?” Spitzer said, laughing as he and the reporters parted ways.
Just before he left the meeting chambers, Spitzer added: “I don’t think I’d be losing that fight.”
Jose Ochoa is a Voice of OC intern. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.