DA Prosecutor Alleges Workplace Retaliation For Running Against Censured Judge

Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas during his opening statement in the trial of Fullerton police officers involved in the beating death of Kelly Thomas. (Pool photo by the Orange County Register)

Deputy District Attorney Karen Schatzle, who ran against incumbent Judge Scott Steiner in 2016, has filed an internal claim against the county of Orange alleging District Attorney Tony Rackauckas retaliated against her after she announced her intention to run for office.

Schatzle claims the DA’s office had an “unwritten policy” of discouraging candidates from running against incumbent judges and that she was warned by superiors her career as a prosecutor would suffer if she ran for office.

Rackauckas also had endorsed Steiner, who was censured in 2014 for having sex with two former law students in his court chambers, and again later for trying to help one of the students get a job at the DA’s office.

According to her complaint filed Monday, Schatzle was denied promotions and currently is performing the work of less qualified employees. She is seeking $5 million in damages.

Schatzle’s claim is the fourth internal claim against the District Attorney’s Office in recent months. Two investigators for the DA’s office have filed claims alleging workplace harassment and retaliation after they reported misconduct, while the agency’s top investigator, Craig Hunter, filed a claim alleging Rackauckas interfered in corruption investigations on behalf of political allies.

In May 2016, Schatzle told the Orange County Register her decision to run for judge was “career suicide” and made similar allegations of retaliation. At the time, Rackauckas said Schatzle’s statements were “false.”

Reached for comment Monday about Schatzle’s claim, Rackauckas gave a brief statement via email.

“Since 2015, Senior Deputy District Attorney Karen Schatzle’s work assignment has been ‘Team Leader’ in Branch Court Operations.  During this time, she has maintained the same job title, same salary schedule, and same job duties,” Rackauckas said.

Contact Thy Vo at tvo@voiceofoc.org or follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.