Reiff: Law Prof Mainero Says He’d Love to be DA but Hates the Politics

Chapman University law professor Mario Mainero wants to be Orange County’s next district attorney, but he’s reluctant to leave his beloved classroom for an uphill battle against two well-known and well-funded politicians.

“I’m not a fool. I’m not going to sit there and go, ‘I think I’ll run for this,’ and watch the other two people have two or three million dollars each,” Mainero said on the “Inside OC with Rick Reiff” public affairs program.

Next year’s DA race is shaping up as a battle royal between two troubled political heavyweights. Incumbent Tony Rackauckas is under siege from a jailhouse snitch scandal that has brought judicial rebukes, case delays and national embarrassment to his office; challenger and OC Supervisor Todd Spitzer is dogged by questions about his judgment and temperament, exemplified in the furor over his 2015 armed confrontation with a “suspicious” man in a Wahoo’s restaurant.

The situation has given rise to “anyone but Tony or Todd” chatter in legal and political circles. Some commentators have welcomed the scholarly Mainero’s announcement that he’s considering a run.

But Mainero, a Republican as are Rackauckas and Spitzer, held out little hope of getting the party’s endorsement:

“Parties just tend to stick with what they got and not take a stand when there’s a problem,” Mainero said. “The Republican Party stood by (former OC Sheriff) Mike Carona until he went to prison, for all intents and purposes. The Republican Party is likely to stick with any incumbent.”

Mainero returned to full-time teaching in 2009 after two-and-a-half often contentious years as then-Supervisor John Moorlach’s chief of staff.

“I am not particularly in love with politics,” Mainero said. “I am in love with policy and with trying to make things better through policy. … That is not going to get done in a mountain of attack pieces from both Mr. Rackauckas and Mr. Spitzer. It just isn’t.”

He criticized Rackauckas as a poor manager who is too cozy with other officeholders and unwilling to prosecute political misdeeds.

He was less harsh toward Spitzer, “who I consider a friend,” and who worked with Mainero on the establishment of the county ethics commission.

But he said Spitzer has done little more than attack Rackauckas without explaining how he’d reform the DA’s office. “That means Todd’s a politician… this is an office that ought not be political at all.”

Mainero criticized both officials for their continued support of the death penalty, calling it fiscally irresponsible. He said the millions of dollars that go into death penalty trials, appeals and death-row housing would be better spent fighting gangs, sex traffickers and identity thieves.

If elected, Mainero said he would take steps to raise ethical standards and reduce politics in the DA’s office. He said he would institute continuing case-law education for attorneys and investigators; report ethics violators to the state bar; leave it to his “professional prosecutors” to hold press conferences and try high-profile cases; and move away from the post-election practice “that has happened in prior times” of demoting or reassigning those who supported a different candidate.

Mainero said if he doesn’t run, he’d like to see someone else step forward, mentioning as one possibility another ethics commission ally, former OC Common Cause President Bill Mitchell.

The Mainero interview recently aired on PBS SoCal, KDOC and Cox. The interview and post-show “Open Mic” segment can be seen on YouTube here and here.

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