Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens (left) and District Attorney Tony Rackauckas. Credit: Jeff Antenore for Voice of OC, and pool photo by OC Register

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Orange County’s top law enforcement jobs could be hotly contested races this year as four candidates, including District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, are running for DA and three contenders want to replace Sandra Hutchens as Sheriff.

Candidates for county races had until 5 p.m. Friday to file for the June 5 primary election ballot. The top two vote-getters will move on to the November general election.

The race for District Attorney could be a showdown between Rackauckas and his former protégé, county Supervisor Todd Spitzer. The two who have been feuding for much of the past decade. Attorneys Lenore Albert-Sheridan and Brett Murdock, both Democrats, also are running for DA.

Undersheriff Don Barnes, Aliso Viejo Mayor David Harrington and Los Angeles DA investigator Duke Nguyen will compete to fill the Hutchens’ seat. She announced in June she would not run for re-election. 

Both the District Attorney and Sheriff’s Department have been under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice and California Attorney General over allegations the agencies systematically used jailhouse informants against people already charged and represented by attorneys, a violation of their rights.

Rackauckas also has seen a number of complaints filed against his office by former investigators, who have accused the District Attorney of obstructing investigations into political corruption to protect allies.

Before Hutchens announced she wouldn’t run again, she also faced heavy criticism for failing to prevent the high-profile escape of two inmates, and for allegedly abusive conditions in her jails.

A number of county Republican officials continue to stand behind Rackauckas and Hutchens. Rackauckas is endorsed by four members of Congress, five state Assembly members, and former local and state GOP party leaders, Scott Baugh, Shawn Steel (husband of county Supervisor Michelle Steel) and Mike Schroeder (ex-husband of Rackauckas’ Chief of Staff Susan Kang Schroeder.)

Spitzer, who has sought to position himself as a victim’s advocate and corruption fighter, is endorsed by Paul Wilson, whose wife was killed by mass murderer Scott Dekraai; Ron Thomas, whose homeless son Kelly Thomas died after a violent encounter with Fullerton police; and campaign watchdog Shirley Grindle.

But the supervisor enters the DA race with his own baggage.

Spitzer has drawn criticism for his unusual, though not illegal, use of a GOP Central Committee campaign account to finance his political lifestyle.

Detractors have painted Spitzer as an erratic personality. In 2015, the supervisor handcuffed a proselytizer at a Wahoo’s Fish Taco restaurant. The county fought the release of a draft editorial written by Spitzer about the incident, resulting in a lawsuit by Voice of OC. The county lost, and paid Voice of OC $121,000 in attorneys’ fees.

One of Spitzer’s former county employees, Christine Richters, claimed in a lawsuit the supervisor has a “raging temper” and required employees to work extreme hours, including a policy that employees be on “stand-by 24 hours per day, 7 days per week to respond to any text message” he sent them.

Spitzer vehemently denied the allegations, but the county paid $150,000 to Richters to settle the lawsuit. Richters has filed another lawsuit against Spitzer, accusing him of defamation. 

Richters’ attorney, Lenore Albert-Sheridan, is also one of the candidates for DA.

Albert-Sheridan previously ran for State Assembly. In 2016, the State Bar recommended her license to practice law be suspended for 30 days for failing to cooperate in a disciplinary investigation and pay $7,258 in sanctions.

Murdock is the former mayor of Brea and ran against Rep. Ed Royce (R-Fullerton) for the 39th Congressional District in 2016. Murdock describes himself as a victims’ rights attorney and said he wants to bring “Democratic values” to the DA’s office by focusing on “rehabilitation instead of incarceration.”

Spitzer leads in campaign fundraising with $1.5 million raised last year. Rackauckas raised $325,517 in 2017. Murdock has raised $4,527 while Albert-Sheridan has not reported any fundraising.

Since Hutchens announced she wouldn’t seek re-election, she has endorsed Barnes as her successor and largely stepped aside in recent months from news conferences and other publicity-generating events, letting Barnes speak for the department.

Barnes, a 27-year veteran of the department, has racked up a list of law enforcement endorsements from the Orange County Attorneys’ Association, deputies’ union and a long list of former and current police chiefs.

Harrington, a Republican with a 29-year career with the Sheriff’s Department, is Barnes’ main challenger. He’s backed by a number of Orange County mayors and city council members.

The two are neck-in-neck in fundraising; Barnes raised $235,000 last year while Harrington raised $221,000.

Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office detective Nguyen, a North Tustin resident, has also filed paperwork to run for Sheriff. Nguyen, a Vietnamese American refugee, writes on his campaign website that he wants to fight “systemic corruption, racism and disenfranchisement of those whom are most ill prepared to help themselves.”

Board of Supervisors

Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson is running for Congress this year and six candidates have stepped up to take the termed-out supervisor’s seat.

Two Republicans and four Democrats filed paperwork Friday, the deadline to become a candidate for the June 5 primary, to represent the Fourth District in Northeast Orange County. The district includes the cities of Anaheim, Brea, Buena Park, Fullerton, Placentia and La Habra.

Democrat Joe Kerr, a former Orange County Fire Authority firefighter and former union president, raised the most funds with $124,337 last year but is the only candidate to have never held elected office.

Republican La Habra Mayor Tim Shaw raised $96,178 last year, but has relatively low name recognition in the Fourth District compared to the other Republican candidate, Anaheim City Councilwoman Lucille Kring, who represents a much larger city.

Three other Democrats also are running: Fullerton Mayor Doug Chaffee, La Habra Councilwoman Rose Espinoza and Cynthia Aguirre, a La Habra City School Board member and county budget analyst.

Espinoza raised $14,359 last year while Aguirre and Chaffee have not reported any fundraising.

Two incumbent supervisors also are running for re-election, Second District Supervisor Steel and Fifth District Supervisor Lisa Bartlett.

Bartlett, who represents South Orange County, is running unopposed.

Libertarian Michael Mahony and Democrat Brendon Perkins are running against Steel in the Second District, which covers cities along the county’s border with Los Angeles and along the northern coast, including Seal Beach, Buena Park, Costa Mesa and Newport Beach.

Neither candidate has filed documents showing any fundraising. Steel raised $573,000 last year.

Other County Offices 

Four other county officials are running for re-election.

Assessor Claude Parrish has two challengers, Managing Deputy Assessor Richard Ramirez and litigation attorney Nathaniel Fernandez-Epstein.

Auditor-Controller Eric Woolery has one opponent, his former employee, Toni Smart.

Smart, the former director of the Auditor-Controller’s internal audit division, filed a lawsuit against the county in late January alleging Woolery misused taxpayer money by having government employees drive his children to and from school during work hours and babysit them at the office.

Smart claims she was wrongfully fired in mid-January.

Clerk-Recorder Hugh Nguyen has one opponent, former Orange Unified School District Trustee Steve Rocco.

Treasurer-Tax Collector Shari Freidenrich is running unopposed.

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

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