Orange County District Attorney officials say a report on a year-long review of reforms intended to prevent misuse of informants and ensure proper disclosure of evidence is expected in the next few weeks.
Attorney Stephen G. Larson was hired a year ago as an “independent monitor” to review implementation of January 2016 recommendations from an expert panel on how to prevent misuse of informants. The recommendations were the result of an ongoing scandal in which jailhouse informants were illegally used and relevant 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.”
Larson was tasked in his contract with providing “regularly scheduled reports” to the DA regarding implementation of the informant practices committee’s recommendations to prevent future misconduct.
After he was hired one year ago, Larson provided one introductory report, in Sept. 2016, and no written reports since then, according to DA officials.
“He’s only written one report,” Chief Assistant District Attorney Jim Tanizaki said during Tuesday’s meeting of the county Board of Supervisors.
Larson’s firm has conducted a lot of interviews, and DA officials think his next report will be the byproduct of “a substantive, sustained review,” Tanizaki added.
In June, an Orange County Grand Jury report recommended county supervisors cancel Larson’s $575 per-hour contract, saying it was a waste of taxpayer money.
Later that month, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas told county supervisors it wouldn’t be necessary to cancel the contract because he expects Larson will finish his work within 60 days of the grand jury report’s June 13 release, which would have been Aug. 12.
During that public discussion, Supervisor Todd Spitzer also referred to a letter he said Larson sent the DA last year indicating Larson would issue a report in August 2017.
The next report from Larson is expected in the next couple of weeks, District Attorney spokeswoman Michelle Van Der Linden said Tuesday.
If that is indeed the final report, as Rackauckas suggested, it would mean Larson produced two written reports under the contract – an introductory report and a final report – despite the contract requiring him to “provide regularly scheduled reports to the District Attorney.”
Asked what the schedule was for the reports, Van Der Linden wrote in an email: “There is no schedule as to the frequency of the Larson reports.”
She didn’t answer follow-up questions about whether Larson ever told the DA’s office when he would be filing his reports.
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 Bernardo County officials.
The expert panel on informants had recommended Rackauckas hire a former judge to oversee the implementation of the panel’s recommendations.
Rackauckas picked Larson, a former federal judge who now works alongside Rackauckas’ ex-wife’s law firm.
Larson is co-counsel with the law partner of Rackauckas’ ex-wife, Kay Anderle, for the same defendant in the Colonies trial, developer Jeff Burum.
Prosecutors allege Burum paid $100,000 in bribes each to three San Bernardino County officials in order to get a $102 million legal settlement from the county. In his closing arguments, Larson said prosecutors failed to prove their claims.
Larson served as a federal judge from 2003 until 2006, when he resigned and entered private practice.
Rackauckas commissioned the panel of experts, known as the Informant Policies & Practices Evaluation Committee (IPPEC), to review the DA’s use of informants.
But at the end of its review, the committee found what it described as a problematic “win at all costs mentality” at the DA’s office, and that “a lack of leadership” there “appears to have contributed to the jailhouse informant controversy.”
It issued a series of recommendations, including creating a committee with a retired criminal defense attorney or retired judge to oversee and approve the use of informants.
The DA’s office has said it’s implemented almost all of the recommendations, and Larson was hired as the “independent monitor” to ensure the implementation happens.
But it’s unclear if the public will find out Larson’s findings. DA officials say his reports are confidential under attorney-client privilege.
Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at email@example.com.