DA’s Monitor on Use of Informants Didn’t File Reports He Promised

JOSE OCHOA, Voice of OC intern

Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas speaks during the June 27, 2017, Orange County Board of Supervisors meeting.

A lawyer whose firm has been paid at least $140,000 in taxpayer funds to monitor the Orange County District Attorney’s compliance with jailhouse informant reforms did not file the two reports he promised for the first half of this year.

The monitor, Stephen G. Larson, wrote in his first report in November he would submit quarterly reports about whether the DA is implementing the reforms.

But in an interview Tuesday, Larson said quarterly reports weren’t required in his contract, and that he later realized his team’s time is better spent on more important tasks.

“I thought that it was more important to spend the time that we are spending on this doing substantive work…in terms of providing advice, obtaining information, getting the actual recommendations fully implemented than spending time writing reports,” Larson said.

“Many of those things were better communicated in our meetings” with the DA’s office, he said.

In addition, no monthly bills have been paid under the contract since March, when Larson nearly reached his $150,000 annual cost limit, just over halfway through the contract year.

“We ran out of funds basically in March to continue the work for the year,” Larson said.

“I think this turned out to be a bigger project than was budgeted. I certainly would have liked to have done more work, but we’re limited by our budget.”

Despite nearly reaching the limit, the DA’s office allowed work to continue on the contract in the remaining months of the fiscal year, without obtaining a contract increase from the Board of Supervisors, whose approval is required by county policy.

DA officials declined to say how they plan to pay Larson’s firm an amount over the annual contract limit.

They have suggested the bills may be processed as part of the second year of the contract, but county officials say supervisors’ approval still is needed.

Larson and his law firm, Larson O’Brien LLP, were hired by District Attorney Tony Rackauckas last August after an expert panel recommended the DA have a retired judge monitor whether the prosecutors’ office is implementing the reforms recommended by the panel to prevent misuse of informants.

The reform recommendations stemmed from a scandal in which jailhouse informants were illegally used and evidence was not provided to defense attorneys.

At least six convictions for murder and other serious crimes have been overturned because of alleged misconduct related to informants, known as the “jailhouse snitch scandal.”

Under Larson’s contract, he and another attorney at his firm are paid $575 per hour to review the DA’s compliance with the reform recommendations and provide “regularly scheduled reports” about it to the DA.

Additionally, he’s tasked with providing the DA with advice about changing policies and practices regarding informants, evidence disclosure obligations, and training of prosecutors.

Larson said he plans to file his next report sometime this week. It’s unclear if the public will get to learn his findings. The DA previously has declined to release Larson’s findings, citing attorney-client privilege. Voice of OC received the November report because the county supervisors released it.

In his November report, Larson said he would be providing “quarterly reports,” starting with that “first quarterly report” as well as annual reports starting in August 2017.

“We will provide preliminary assessments of the OCDA’s implementation of the [reform] recommendations in our subsequent quarterly reports and final assessments in our annual reports,” Larson wrote in his first report on Nov. 30, 2016. Later in the report, he wrote: “Larson O’Brien LLP will submit quarterly and annual reports.”

Based on that schedule, Larson would have submitted quarterly reports in February and May.

But he didn’t, according to DA officials.

Chief Assistant District Attorney Jim Tanizaki, who oversees the contract, said Larson hasn’t submitted any other reports besides the one in November.

“He’s only written one report,” Tanizaki said last week when questioned by Supervisor Todd Spitzer at the county supervisors’ regular meeting. Spitzer is running against Rackauckas for DA in next year’s election.

Tanizaki said Larson currently is working on a “substantive” report.

He didn’t explain why Larson didn’t issue the quarterly reports he had promised.

Asked what happened, DA spokeswoman Michelle Van Der Linden said, in spite of what Larson wrote in his November report, there never was any agreement between Larson and the DA’s office over how often he would be submitting reports.

“There was no agreement to quarterly reports,” she said, adding “there was no agreed frequency” for the reports.

(Click here to read the November report.)

Larson has been in court for most of the last year as a defense attorney in a high-profile corruption trial, known as the Colonies bribery case, which involves three San Bernardino County officials.

The long-running trial started in January and entered jury deliberations last week. Larson works alongside the law partner of Rackauckas’ ex-wife, Kay Anderle.

Larson and his law firm have received at least $140,000 for their work in the first seven months of the DA contract, from its approval last August until March, according to the county Auditor Controller’s Office, which handles payments for county contracts.

That’s close to the annual limit of $150,000, with several more months to go before the contract’s second year started in mid-August.

DA officials say Larson’s firm has continued to work on the contract. If it continued to incur costs at the same rate it did through March, the firm would have billed the county more than $200,000 for the first year of work, in spite of the $150,000 annual limit.

Spitzer questioned Tanizaki, the DA official who oversees the contract, about this last week. When the supervisor asked how much Larson’s firm has billed the DA’s office so far, Tanizaki responded: “I don’t know.”

“But he’s still within the contract amount?” Spitzer asked.

“You know what – uh, I – I’m not positive exactly where he is,” Tanizaki replied. “Because I think the contract ended – uh, or is ending – the contract year ends, like – what day is – it might be, like today or [tomorrow] – it’s, it’s in the next couple days…And we enter a new contract year.”

Spitzer interjected. “But he was given – it seemed like he had plenty of money, based on the [bills so far].”

“Right,” Tanizaki replied.

Spitzer continued: “But you would have to come back [to the Board of Supervisors] if it exceeded [the contract amount].”

“Right, but we’re also entering this…new year” for the contract, Tanizaki replied.

In a follow-up interview, the DA’s spokeswoman declined to say if Larson was allowed to provide services that exceeded the contract amount without supervisors’ approval, with the DA then waiting months to process the bills until the next contract year.

“We’ve said everything we’re gonna say with regard to the contract,” Van Der Linden said Friday, referring all further questions to the county.

County spokeswoman Jennifer Nentwig referred the questions back to the DA’s office, saying “the District Attorney’s office is the point of contact for this information.”

County officials say DA officials must return to the Board of Supervisors for a contract increase if they want to pay Larson’s firm more than the current annual limit.

The contract requires Larson’s law firm to submit billing statements to Tanizaki for each month it provides services. The invoices have to be sent to the DA’s office no later than 10 days after the end of the month.

And the contract requires the county to “make its best effort to process payments promptly after receiving Attorneys’ monthly billing statement.”

Voice of OC left telephone messages for Larson Friday and Monday, seeking his comments. He returned the calls Tuesday after this story was published. This is an update.

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

  • Ed Romero

    How in the hell od you FILE REPORTS on something that EVERYONE including the DA NEVER HAPPENED? It’s like that former Orange County Sheriff that DIDN’T KNOW about all the Drug Dealing, Marijuana Smoking and Cocaine Snorting at the Orange County Probation Department. I will quote what one of his Deputy Sheriff/Security Guard said one night in our Probation Records Unit on the 4th Floor of the Main Office Building and I quote “SOMEONE IS SMOKING MARIJUANA ON THE 5TH FLOOR AND I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO”, but he sure knew what to do with our Clerks and on while on duty, SNEAKING one of them into the building after hours. What’s wrong here and with the General Pubic is that they are not aware of County Policy which is “DON’T DO ANYTHING, KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT AND DO THE RIGHT THING”. As that Acting Records Supervisor said to me after I caught ANOTHER Deputy Sheriff having SEX with ANOTHER of our Female Clerks and I quote “ED, IF YOU WANT TO KEEP YOUR JOB, YOU BETTER KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT AND FORGET ABOUT WHAT YOU SAW”, I didn’t, I did the WRONG THING, I reported it and NOTHING was done to them but I was TRANSFERRED and eventually ASKED TO RESIGN.

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  • LFOldTimer

    “Larson said he would be providing “quarterly reports,” starting with his “first quarterly report” last November, as well as annual reports starting in August 2017.”

    Sort of reminds me of the old Director Stephan Connally at the farce watchdog agency OIR when he first started. He was supposed to submit monthly reports to the Board about his progress. He didn’t submit one for close to a year and the Board had to bring him before the public podium to explain himself. He had no good excuse and was admonished and told to do his job. Imagine if you were a new employee and failed to submit required monthly reports to YOUR boss for close to a year. What would happen to you? Similar nonsense went on for 8 years while the Board kept him on the payroll @ $175,000 to 200,000 a year with a big fat car allowance and expenses. lol.

    I remember when Do and the others told us that they couldn’t disband the OIR because the DOJ would come in and slap the county with a consent decree. We couldn’t take that risk. lol. Fast forward a year. The OIR has been defunct since April 2016 and no consent decree. No talk from the Board about fear of a consent decree. lol. It was all a head fake. All total BS.

    This is all one big corrupted family, folks. From one hand to the next. It’s really easy to spend other people’s money. Try it sometime if you get the chance. That’s what friends are for. lol.

    • David Zenger

      Believe it or not, Connolly once told me it was demeaning for him to have to justify his work, as if it somehow spoke for itself.

      Of course he also told me the benefit of his office was that it provided reassurance to the public that there was a watchdog on the job. The idea of differentiating between appearance and effectiveness never occurred to him.

      • LFOldTimer

        Connally was hired as window dressing. The supes never had any intention to monitor OCSD or to hold them accountable for their actions. It was all Kabuki Theater post Carona. Over the course of 8 years they publicly reprimanded Connolly 3 or 4 times for not doing what he was allegedly hired to do. Yet they kept him on the payroll. That’s what friends are for.

        The Ethics Commission will play out the very same way. The writing is all over the wall.

      • verifiedsane

        Connolly was nothing more an expensive Sheriff’s cover-up tool…the BoS or the Sheriff’s didn’t want or would they allow any independent oversight…they both are hiding way to much corruption and criminal activity

        • LFOldTimer

          Looking back it’s no surprise that Hutchens came to Connolly’s defense whenever he came under fire by the Board for his lousy performance. No doubt in my mind that he was protecting her when he was getting paid by the taxpayers to keep a critical eye on her. No wonder she adored him! lol. His office was located in Sheriff HQ’s with all the cops he was supposed to be monitoring! lol. The cops were using illegal informants in the jail while he was the watchdog! lol. Right under his nose!

          If you hired somebody as a watchdog for a government agency would you put his office smack dab in the belly of the beast with those he was assigned to watch? lol.

          The whole thing was a scam from the start.

          Just like the Ethic’s Commission is a scam.

  • David Zenger

    Well, just add this to an ever-growing list of County “reports” – political fixes – that were paid for by the public but never materialized, or if they did, were laughable.

  • verifiedsane

    Corruption heaped on top of incompetence, layered on top of more corruption, blanketed with zero oversight and lot’s of meaningless political double speak…..and there you have it citizens….that is the criminal OC BoS and DA’s message to the public that they supposedly serve & represent…a bunch of blank checks written upon the backs of OC tax payers, while receiving absolutely nothing in return. This is what we should expect going forward; just more of the same! The end result of having an apathetic, uninformed, and disinterested voting citizenry….