Santana: High Ranking Aide to DA Todd Spitzer Disappears from Agency and State Assembly Campaign After Filing Explosive Claim Against County

JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

District Attorney Todd Spitzer at his swearing-in event in January 2019.

Norberto Santana, Jr.

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A top ranking executive who worked for OC District Attorney Todd Spitzer filed a legal claim with the county earlier this year alleging Spitzer was an abusive boss and repeatedly engaged in a pattern of illegal behavior, highlighting instances of improperly releasing information from county bids and public records.

Melanie Eustice, who served as Spitzer’s chief of staff as a county supervisor and then followed him to the DA’s office after he was elected in 2018 as his Chief of Administration and Public Affairs, abruptly left the DA’s office in October after a series of confrontations with Spitzer.

Neither Eustice nor Spitzer will talk about what happened.

“Ms. Eustice has endured an abusive work environment in Mr. Spitzer’s office including angry outbursts, emotional abuse, bullying, shaming, and control tactics. When Mr. Spitzer could not compel Ms. Eustice to do his bidding in connection with the RFP (Request for Proposals) and PRA (Public Records Act), he erupted in a fit of rage charging at her and screaming, “get the fuck out of here,” reads an Oct. 23 claim filed with the County of Orange earlier this year and obtained recently by Voice of OC through a Public Records Act request.

“Ms. Eustice was terminated in retaliation for her complaints concerning illegal behavior and for refusing to participate in activities that would result in a violation of law,” her claim states.

To read her claim, click here.

In her claim, Eustice said Spitzer instructed her “to engage in the following illegal activity,” saying he wanted her to “release a request for proposal to Mr. Spitzer prior to publication so he could share it with a prospective county vendor.”

She also claims Spitzer wanted Eustice to provide unredacted documents to Orange County Register reporter Tony Saavedra, “which contained information protected by Government Code section 6254, subd. (k) (State Bar investigations are confidential) and Government Code section 6254, subd. (c) (invasion of privacy related to personnel and/or similar records).”

According to the claim, “Ms. Eustice voiced her concerns about these instructions verbally and in texts and emails to attorneys in the District Attorney’s office multiple times including expressing her concerns during an October 17, 2019 Executive Board Meeting (in attendance – Scott Zidbeck, Ebrahim Baytieh, Shawn Nelson and Todd Spitzer). In retaliation for her complaints and refusal to comply with Mr. Spitzer’s instructions, on October 18, 2019 Ms. Eustice was told by Mr. Spitzer “that’s it, you’re fired. Give me your fucking key and your badge and get the fuck out of here right now.”

Spitzer responded to Eustice’s concerns in an Oct. 22 email, provided to Voice of OC under the state’s Public Records Act, where he disputed Eustice’s reading of the county procurement manual.

“You recently made certain allegations about my role as the elected District Attorney and my ability, at any time, to meet with vendors or prospective vendors. You specifically counseled that I was prohibited from meeting with even an incumbent vendor once the OCDA issued an RFP for those services,” Spitzer wrote. “As you are aware, these services have never been procured and the head OCDA has an important interest in this process. I also, as the Department Head, need to know and understand the services we are procuring.”

That day, Spitzer wrote to Eustice that he was including a county counsel opinion that he said refuted her legal advice.

“I am providing you the opinion from county counsel and the specific citations which rebut your advice and show that your advice was incorrect. You also made a statement: ‘Oh yeah, Mr. Attorney Smarty Pants, you are breaking the law. That statement was in response to my request the day before for you to send me the RFP for diversion services so that I could understand what services our office was seeking,” Spitzer wrote.

“As you recall, the proposal to block access to Supervisors on RFPs pending before them was stricken at my request and Leon Page, on the record at an open board meeting, agreed with my analysis. You cannot block the right to seek redress from your elected officials during the procurement process,” Spitzer wrote.

To read Spitzer’s letter, click here.

Eustice, who launched an aborted bid for the 73rd State Assembly District earlier this year, still lists her connection to the DA’s office on her campaign website but not on her Twitter feed.

Yet as of the Dec. 6 official filing deadline for candidates, Eustice’s name was not included.

Just months after Spitzer took office, Eustice officially announced her campaign in July and immediately took aim at State Assemblyman Bill Brough, who has been accused of sexual harassment in the state assembly.

“After hearing the numerous allegations swarming around Assemblyman Brough, I can no longer stand by. I’m stepping up to be a voice, yet again, for the voiceless to say, ‘enough.’ We need change and I’m stepping up not just for women, but for every parent who has a daughter in the workplace. Assemblymember Brough’s alleged conduct is not only disgusting but it’s also unacceptable,” wrote Eustice in a July 11 email announcement of her campaign.

Brough has denied any wrongdoing.

Eustice very much touted her connection to the DA throughout her campaign, even getting endorsements from some of the same victims’ rights groups that have often supported Spitzer.

“I’m proud to announce my run for the 73rd Assembly District. My work throughout the years as an elected school trustee, chief of staff to an Orange County Board of Supervisor and now fighting for public safety from the District Attorney’s office has prepared me to represent the people of the 73rd District,” Eustice wrote on July 11.

Her last email update went out Oct. 14.

There are some indications that Spitzer and Eustice may have feuded over her campaign.

John Thomas, a well known Republican campaign consultant who has worked with Spitzer in recent years and was heading up Eustice’s campaign, confirmed he had severed ties with Eustice earlier this year, but declined to offer specifics.

On Sept. 10, Spitzer sent out a formal office notice to all DA officials running for public office.

“Under no circumstances may campaign time be taken as flex time or “off the books” time based on hours worked in self-reported time,” read the memo.

“At no time will any candidate or elected official be out of the office without a direct supervisors being able to explain where the employee is and how the employee is using their own time to conduct campaign activity outside of this office,” Spitzer wrote.

To read the Sept. 10 letter, click here.

Eustice’s lawyer, Devon M. Lyon, in her legal claim, wrote that “Ms. Eustice is investigating potential claims for violation of Labor Code sections 1101 (forbidding employee from becoming a candidate for public office) and 1102 (coercion or threat of discharge for following any particular course or line of political action or political activity),” referencing a series of text messages between Spitzer and Eustice.

Lyon did not answer a request for comment.

In her claim, Lyon wrote that “through me, Ms. Eustice is interested in the negotiation of a severance in exchange for the execution of a release and severance agreement prior to the filing of her 910 claim and ultimately a lawsuit.”

Ultimately, that’s what may have happened.

Eustice has not responded to multiple requests for comment.

Spitzer, in turn, issued a general comment earlier this week when asked about Eustice’s abrupt exit.

“On Friday, Oct. 18, Melanie Eustice voluntarily agreed to separate from county employment and is eligible for rehire.”