A senior deputy district attorney and former judicial candidate, Karen Schatzle, has filed a federal lawsuit against the County of Orange and the District Attorney’s office alleging DA Tony Rackauckas retaliated against her and threatened her career because she ran against a judge he had endorsed.
Schatzle, who ran against incumbent Judge Scott Steiner in 2016, claims she was warned by superiors her career as a prosecutor would suffer if she ran against Steiner and that she has since been denied promotions and is performing the work of less qualified employees.
She is suing the county and DA’s office for allegedly violating her rights to free speech and due process.
Schatzle claims that throughout his term as DA, Rackauckas has “engaged in a unlawful pattern and practice of squelching dissent and free speech among his employees” and engaged in “job retaliation against his employees who have had the temerity to bring unlawful practices in the OCDA’s office to public attention.”
DA Spokeswoman Michelle Van Der Linden said in an emailed statement that Schatzle has held the same position since 2015.
“During this time, she has maintained the same salary schedule and job duties and has not been penalized in any way,” Van Der Linden wrote in an email. “The Orange County District Attorney’s Office will vigorously defend against this lawsuit.”
Steiner, the judge Schatzle ran against, 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.
Her lawsuit is the fourth complaint against the District Attorney’s Office in recent months. Two investigators for the DA’s office have filed internal 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.
Schatzle’s attorney, Joel Baruch, is representing Conklin and Santos.
The county has rejected internal claims by two of the investigators, Abraham Santos and Tom Conklin, meaning they now may sue.
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.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that Joel Baruch is representing Craig Hunter. Hunter is represented by Bradley Gage.
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