County Supervisors Vote to Pay Voice of OC $121,396 in Legal Costs After Losing Public Records Case

Supervisor Todd Spitzer at an Orange County Board of Supervisors meeting. (Photo by: Nick Gerda)

County Supervisors Tuesday unanimously voted to pay Voice of OC $121,396 in legal fees after losing a Superior Court lawsuit over their refusal to release public records about Supervisor Todd Spitzer’s handcuffing a preacher at a Wahoo’s restaurant.

Voice of OC sued the county in March 2016, after officials refused to release records concerning a public statement Spitzer wanted to issue about the 2015 Wahoo’s Fish Taco incident.

After more than a year in court, Superior Court Judge Walter Schwarm ruled in May the Wahoo records are public and ordered the county to release them. The ruling became final in June. He allowed the county to keep from the public a separate set of emails related to a county contract with the preacher’s employer.

Under California law, when a court rules that a local government improperly withheld public records, the government agency must pay the legal bills of the person or group that sued.

The county claimed victory Tuesday because it didn’t have to release the second set of records.

Voice of OC Chief Litigator Kelly Aviles noted only the winners of a lawsuit can collect damages. Voice of OC Publisher Norberto Santana Jr. called the county’s claim “laughable.”

In its statement the county said “On County Counsel [Leon Page]’s recommendation, the County litigated this Public Records Act lawsuit to protect an important right known as the deliberative process privilege. This privilege exists to protect creative debate and candid consideration of policy alternatives within an agency.

“The Superior Court upheld the County’s claim of privilege on the policy memoranda and calendaring information the Voice of OC was requesting, and upheld the County’s privilege on 22 of the 26 items. The Voice of OC chose not to appeal its defeat on this legal issue.

“Still, the County respects and appreciates the fact that, under the Public Records Act, a prevailing party is entitled to recover its attorney’s fees even when the Superior Court chooses to order the release of only a small portion of the documents originally demanded.”

Aviles replied “The Public Records Act requires that attorneys fees and costs be paid to the prevailing party. The County obviously understands that Voice of OC was the prevailing party, as they have agreed to pay all costs and fees incurred in this matter, in full. We are pleased that they have agreed to do so without expending additional taxpayer dollars further litigating this issue.”

Said Santana, “The county’s statement is as laughable as their legal strategy over these past years.

“County supervisors shamefully fought public disclosure of basic public documents for nearly two years, and they lost,” he said. “The unfortunate part of all of this is that now the taxpayer has to cover their political hides, as usual.”

During their closed session Tuesday, supervisors unanimously approved an agreement to pay Voice of OC a total of $121,396, which includes $120,220 for the news agency’s attorney fees and $1,176 in other lawsuit costs.

The records released by the court showed Spitzer repeatedly tried to issue a public statement suggesting he would have been justified using “deadly force” against the preacher, who Spitzer handcuffed on Good Friday 2015 for allegedly staring suspiciously at the supervisor and a nearby table knife.

The records also showed that the county’s then-spokeswoman urged Spitzer not to issue his statement – which was titled “I WILL NEVER TURN MY BACK ON THE PUBLIC OR ITS SAFETY” – saying it could expose the county to a lawsuit. Spitzer, who is running for District Attorney, ultimately backed off.

Voice of OC’s original lawsuit sought the statement Spitzer wanted sent out and related emails. The lawsuit was later amended to include records related to Spitzer postponing the approval of a county contract with the preacher’s employer immediately after the incident. The preacher later was fired by the county contractor, Boys Town.

After reviewing the records and hearing legal arguments from both sides, Schwarm ruled the Boys Town emails are not public, but that all of Spitzer’s Wahoo’s statement and emails are public and must be disclosed – aside from one paragraph in an email.

In addition to Voice of OC’s legal bills, it’s unclear how much the county spent to fight the lawsuit. County spokeswoman Carrie Braun said she asked for those figures Tuesday in response to a question from Voice of OC.

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

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  • verifiedsane

    As always, the lawyers get rich, and the citizen tax payers get screwed…..that’s some county leadership we have….

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  • Paul Lucas

    Can a ballot measure in 2018 be made so that when the BoS pulls this kind of stunt and they lose in ciourt that the BoS pays the legal fees from their own pockets or their re-election campaign funds or a combination of the two?

    • verifiedsane

      There is already an effective ballot measure, your vote…you have the power to vote all these criminals out of office…use it and please spread the word..the people have the final say if they would only come out of their apathetic holes and take off the blinders…

      • Paul Lucas

        Are you serious? How many times haver criminals like T Rack,
        Janet nguyen, etc etc been reelected despite wide spread knowledge of their criminal activity?

        • verifiedsane

          Then the voters only have themselves to blame…do you actually believe that the ruling criminal oligarchy is going to police themselves…or just maybe you think another gutted ballot measure like the laughable “Ethics Commission” is going to make any difference..the people have the power, but if they decide to stick their apathetic heads in the sand; then there is not a damned thing anyone can do…except wait until it all comes crashing down into giant heap of burning wreckage.

          • LFOldTimer

            The sad truth is that we rarely get a decent choice in these county elections. You get to choose between Frankenstein and Dracula.

            Who is the 3rd candidate for DA so far? Mario Mainero??? ha. Give me a %$^&% break! lol.

          • verifiedsane

            We are doomed to the inequities of our own creation ;(

  • Teresa Grieve

    I’m supporting Todd for DA. He works to protect us! Why is everyone complaining. Finally OC has someone with his priorities straight

    • verifiedsane

      ROTFLMAO……That was just Hilarious….Do you serve fish tacos on the side, to go along with your stand up routine…. 🙂

  • Daisy Lang

    Shame that Spitzer has been dragged through this when he looking out for public safety. Do people not see all the work he’s done for victims etc.??

    • verifiedsane

      The Toad Spitter for DA Drone Puppets are lining up in goose step unison to spew their silly propaganda everywhere….. 🙂

      • LFOldTimer

        Todd loves playing the comment boards during election season. You’ve probably noticed that he’s accelerated his presence as of late. You’ll see more of his little sycophants come out of the woodwork and toot his horn over the next 15 months.

        • David Zenger

          On OC Weekly Spitzer turns on Hutchens – after she endorses Rackaukas for DA, no doubt:

          Todd Spitzer · Owner/Principal at Todd Spitzer Law
          Sheriff Hutchens just cost the taxpayers of Orange County $2.25 million because she allowed a deputy sheriff to continue to work Patrol while he was under criminal investigation for sexual misconduct. It is unbelievable that a sexual predator employed by the Sheriff, was allowed to continue to interact with the public. Thank goodness the sheriff who allowed predators to escape from her jail, cause the department and the county to be faced with an informant scandal and allowed the sexual predator to continue to work patrol is stepping down and not seeking re-election.

          The state of Orange County Law Enforcement is in total disarray.

          I am sickened to see the gross deterioration of the Sheriff’s Department.

          Todd Spitzer, County Supervisor, Third District
          Like · Reply · 2 · Aug 4, 2017 8:47pm

          http://www.ocweekly.com/news/orange-county-sheriff-sandra-hutchens-lose-federal-case-over-her-poor-management-8311750

          • LFOldTimer

            I didn’t realize that Hutchens recently endorsed TR. Thanks for the heads-up. Prior to the endorsement in Todd’s mind she could do no wrong. He didn’t criticized her for all her screw-ups. I’ve mentioned several times that Todd failed to blame her for the jail escape or for the jail informant scandal hoping to get her endorsement. Now that she’s endorsed TR the gloves come off. lol.

            It will be interesting to see whether AOCDS backs TR or Todd. Since Todd has influence over future OCSD contracts my guess is that AOCDS will throw their money behind him.

            This just reinforces my belief that Spitzer does not represent what’s best for the OC residents. He represents what’s best for his own personal gain.

    • verifiedsane

      Did you know John Wayne Gacy was a community leader, church deacon, and did all kinds of good works…..he just happen to have this little character flaw lurking in the crawl space under his house…but what the heck, I’m pretty sure these Toad for DA puppets would have voted for Gacy as DA also… 🙂

  • LFOldTimer

    I too am disappointed that VOC declined to appeal the ruling on the Boys Town emails. No doubt there is a hot smoking gun there and the public has a right to know what shenanigans went on between our public officials and their contracted party in secret. That contract is paid for with county tax dollars. Nothing w/ regard to the contract or the county’s discussions with Boys Town should occur outside the public’s eye. Hopefully Norberto and his legal team will reconsider their decision not to appeal. Hopefully the option to appeal hasn’t expired by this time.

    In a just world Spitzer would have to pay the $121,000 out of pocket. It was his decision to fight the release of the emails. His decision was flawed and that should result in personal financial responsibility. But he knew he was playing with other people’s money so the decision came easy. This would be indicative of how he would run the DA’s office. He would shoot from the hip knowing that the taxpayers would take the hit if he screwed up.

    This county needs a viable 3rd candidate for DA in the worst way. And not Mario Mainero. He doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in Hades of staying in the ring with Rackauckas or Spitzer. We need a real candidate. Not a stumblebum opponent who’d get carried out of the ring feet first before the end of the first round.

    Please – somebody with a name in the criminal justice system who can go toe to toe with these two scoundrels – climb into the ring and give the public what we deserve: A man or woman of integrity leading the DA’s office!

    Judge Goethals – are you reading this???

  • OCservant_Leader

    OC criminals hiding and lying got caught!! That’s a victory for the public!!

    No one believes their lying spin that THEY won.

    Vof OC needs to appeal the decision to get the contract emails.

    Negotiating contracts is part of the “deliberative process”.

    What the OC did in pulling the Boys Town contract until they “fired” the preacher is NOT protected. This case goes to intent and motive. Is it just a coincidence that Spitzer took a personal interest in this contract right after his embarrassing “episode”? I think not.

    What was the “reason” the BOS held up this contract? If it is related to Spitzer’s personal conduct…the public has a right to know how politicians pressure their appointees (CEO’s sister) to do their petty bidding. The bureaucracy is not their personal bank account to waste 100K.

    This man is running for DA. Please for the love of god APPEAL for the public!

  • David Zenger

    “The Voice of OC chose not to appeal its defeat on this legal issue.”

    Big mistake.

  • verifiedsane

    The tax payers get stuck with a 120G tab for a few emails that should have been turned over in the first place, and sleazy crime boss Todd Spitzer goes skating away on his dog and pony show DA campaign tour…This so typical of the BoS to pass the buck down to the lowly citizens for their total lack of leadership and incompetence…and then to add insult to injury, they claim a laughable victory for (in)-justice..The Boys Town communications are the smoking gun…of course an OC court would allow them to be buried…There are no limits to the reach of the criminal ruling oligarchy in OC…