Paul Wilson, whose wife Christy was one of eight people killed in the 2011 Seal Beach salon shooting, says District Attorney Todd Spitzer defamed him in retaliation for criticizing Spitzer at a peaceful protest.
Wilson filed an official legal claim this month pointing to a series of public statements Spitzer and his spokeswoman made last summer claiming Wilson was part of a “radical left” campaign funded by billionaire George Soros to replace prosecutors with anti-jail activists.
“I want a public apology from both of them, stating that these are incorrect statements. They have absolutely no history to back up any of those statements,” Wilson told Voice of OC in an interview.
“I’m 100% not connected with George Soros. I’m 100% not connected with [defense attorney] Scott Sanders to do any of what they’re saying with defense attorneys. I mean it’s not even a discussion,” he added.
“To lash out at a victim for holding a 25-people, one-hour peaceful rally outside of their office – and then to come out with a press release [to be quoted] in a newspaper – it’s horrendous, it shows the lack of leadership in that office.”
Spitzer’s spokeswoman says it’s absolutely fair game to express opinions about Wilson now that he’s a well-known person.
“When you make yourself a self-appointed public figure and continually involve yourself in political discussions, you make yourself fair game for anyone to have an opinion about you,” DA spokeswoman Kimberly Edds said in a statement responding to requests for comment from herself and Spitzer.
“There is no doubt that Paul Wilson has appointed himself a public figure and he stands shoulder to shoulder with an assistant public defender and his progressive ideas. Paul Wilson put himself in the political arena and anyone is free to express their opinions about what he says or does.”
The DA’s statements last summer about Wilson – some of which were on official District Attorney letterhead – were responding to an August protest Wilson organized where he called on Spitzer to resign, after video showed the DA praising the Seal Beach shooting prosecutors at the center of a major misconduct scandal Spitzer had earlier criticized in his 2018 campaign for DA.
Wilson supported Spitzer’s 2018 election and appeared in a campaign ad for him, but says Spitzer has failed to follow through on the reforms and law enforcement accountability he promised voters surrounding prosecutorial misconduct in the Seal Beach case.
The so-called “snitch scandal” resulted in years of delays in the Seal Beach shooting case, an appeals court declaring prosecutors withheld evidence and violated defendants’ rights, and led to the entire DA’s office being removed from being able to prosecute the confessed killer, Scott Dekraai.
Spitzer was a harsh public critic of the prosecutors’ handling of the case, and made that criticism a centerpiece of his 2018 campaign to oust Tony Rackauckas as DA. In campaign ads, Spitzer promised voters he’d restore integrity to the criminal justice system.
But a video – first reported by Voice of OC last summer – showed that after Spitzer won the election, he privately praised the Seal Beach shooting prosecutors as “honorable men” who care deeply “about the ethics of our profession” at their December 2019 retirement party. In the video, Spitzer said the prosecutors were “unfairly blamed” for what happened in their case.
Wilson said the video was the final straw that led him to call for Spitzer’s resignation and organize the August rally.
In response to the criticism, Spitzer accused Wilson of being part of a far-left campaign funded by Soros “to turn Orange County into the next San Francisco by putting the rights of criminals over the rights of victims and replacing prosecutors with anti-incarceration advocates.”
Wilson says that couldn’t be further from the truth.
“It’s about holding everybody accountable. Whether you’re a DA or sheriff [deputy] or you’re a criminal walking the streets,” Wilson said of his view.
“I’m a staunch believer in what the police do and how hard their job is. But, again, they take an oath to do that job. They choose to do that job. and if they’re not going to do their job…they need to be held accountable. And there’s a lot of guys out there that do the job and do it [the right way].”
Wilson said he didn’t even know who Soros was until Spitzer accused him of being connected to him.
“Until they put that out there I had no idea who George Soros was, honestly. I had to look it up.”
First Amendment court precedent generally protects speech that expresses an opinion about public figures. But those protections against lawsuits can fade away if someone makes false statements about someone else – and either knew it’s false or acted with a “reckless disregard” for the truth – and they refuse to correct it.
In his legal claim, Wilson cited damages of $250,000. But he says he’s willing to accept a public apology instead, from both Spitzer and Edds.
“It would have to be a very public apology,” Wilson told Voice of OC.
“That’s what I want. Again, from the both of them. I don’t want his mouthpiece writing some crappy press release. It can’t be done that way. It’s got to be a direct quote from both of them.”
Wilson says Spitzer pretends to care about victims but is really only about himself – including with a crime victims’ memorial Spitzer publicly championed eight years ago that hasn’t come to fruition.
“For Todd it’s all smoke and mirrors. He acts [like he cares] but really only [is] interested in what it does for him,” Wilson said.
“The simple fact that he released that press release after my rally was a perfect example.”
About 6 percent of the memorial’s construction costs have been raised for building at its planned site at William R. Mason Regional Park in Irvine, according to figures Spitzer provided last week.
About $58,000 has been raised out of the $1 million cost estimate, the DA said in text messages to a Voice of OC reporter.
But he said there’s a strong likelihood a scaled-down version of the monument will get built more quickly once the DA moves its headquarters to a building next to the Sheriff’s Department.
“We’ve been waiting to move to our new building. Good chance [to] put [the] monument here [between the] sheriff and DA buildings,” Spitzer said.
“The ability to raise 1 million [dollars] is a heavy lift. No one involved could reasonably raise that money at this point,” Spitzer said.
“All the construction and engineering services have been donated to date. It’s at Mason park which is not convenient to a large assembly of prosecutors and police attendees during a weekday event,” he added.
“Makes much more sense to scale down the size and locate it in the civic center where we all work. Riverside DA did that and I was very impressed.”
As for Wilson’s critiques of his handling of the victim’s memorial, Spitzer questioned why Wilson hasn’t contributed.
“Where’s his money? Why hasn’t he offered a dime or offered to help?” Spitzer asked.
“I gave $25,000 myself. Where is his money?”
“He constantly attacks and yet never offers to help,” Spitzer continued.
“I led the design contest, found a site, got the board support, had the project engineered, pulled the team of experts together. So can’t Paul who has lifted not one of his little middle fingers write a check,” the DA added.
“It’s always the guy who does nothing to contribute that makes the allegations we are all lazy.”
The DA added: “You better print my answer.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly quoted Spitzer as saying, “I have [contributed] $25,000 myself.” His actual statement was, “I gave $25,000 myself.”
Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at email@example.com.