OC District Attorney Todd Spitzer is facing an open revolt from his rank-and-file prosecutors after he called for an all-hands-on-deck staff meeting this week.
The prosecutors’ unions have fired off a host of scathing questions they want answered – right in front of staff – about whether he’s destroyed criminal cases and faith in the justice system by injecting race and politics into law enforcement decisions.
One of the unions – the Association of Orange County Deputy District Attorneys – and their political action committee previously endorsed Spitzer, but are now raising the specter of pulling their support, given disclosures in recent weeks.
Those union leaders issued an open letter to Spitzer on Tuesday in conjunction with the other major union representing prosecutors, the Orange County Attorneys Association.
Citing a host of alleged misconduct by Spitzer – including comments during a death penalty decision that the prosecutors call racist – deputy district attorneys are formally asking something that no Orange County district attorney has ever been asked so publicly:
Will Spitzer resign if he loses a no-confidence vote among prosecutors?
“We’re all human and we all mess up at times, but it appears as if you are somehow above ever owning that,” the prosecutors’ unions and political action committee wrote in their joint letter to Spitzer.
“Shouldn’t we have a boss, and an elected public official, who is a good representative of humility, and an example to us of fixing our mistakes when we make them, rather than always blaming everyone else and not trying to improve?” they asked.
“If a majority of your line [deputy district attorneys] take a vote in favor of no confidence, will you step down and let the Board of Supervisors appoint an interim [district attorney]?”
Spitzer and his spokeswoman, Kimberly Edds, didn’t return phone messages for comment.
The hard-hitting questions come as Spitzer faces a new legal challenge from former senior prosecutor Tracy Miller, who filed a claim Wednesday alleging Spitzer wrongfully inserted race into prosecution decisions and told his staff he needs “a brown or a black face” from his staff with him at a meeting with the civil rights group NAACP.
The new questions from prosecutors present a unified front from all of the major unions representing rank-and-file DA prosecutors. They sent the letter in response to Spitzer’s invitation for questions for an “all hands” meeting with his staff he had scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.
But after receiving the questions – which also circulated online – Spitzer postponed the meeting by two days, to Friday, and made it in-person only, canceling the option to call in on Zoom.
After this article was published, one of the unions – the Association of Orange County Deputy District Attorneys – issued a news release taking issue with Voice of OC’s characterization of the letter, saying they had not withdrawn their endorsement of Spitzer.
Their letter asks Spitzer: “Do you agree that it is fair for [the political action committee] to do a revote on your endorsement in light of the things that have transpired since the [original] vote?
Regarding their expectations for the Friday meeting, the union said their questions also focus on salaries, benefits and COVID-19 policies.
Two weeks ago, Voice of OC broke the story of the existence of Spitzer’s racial remarks that complicated the death penalty case.
The prosecutors’ questions come on the heels of multiple days of ensuing news reports from multiple outlets about his own prosecutors and a lead police detective challenging Spitzer over racially charged comments he made when seeking the death penalty against a Black man.
Spitzer has defended his comments – in which he acknowledges saying many Black men date white women to gain acceptance socially – as being proper in the context of the death penalty discussion.
But he in recent days has taken a different approach, issuing a statement published Monday that his comments were “inartful.”
Yet Spitzer’s latest comments aren’t convincing his own prosecutors.
“In recent media interviews…you refuse to recognize that your comments were inappropriate, offensive and racist. In fact, you doubled down on your comments as appropriate,” the prosecutors wrote in their letter, which included 7 pages of detailed questions.
Questions that the prosecutors want Spitzer to answer in front of him include:
“You speak often of accountability, but you have yet to acknowledge or apologize for the hurt you have caused the Orange County Community who deserve fair, just and equitable prosecution,” they continued.
“Given that you lack personal insight and awareness on how injecting race into the criminal justice system is inappropriate, how can you continue to lead others to ensure equitable treatment under the law?”
They didn’t stop there.
“You have recently said your comments about black men dating white women were ‘inartful;’ how would you now say it in a more ‘artful’ way?” the prosecutors asked in their letter.
“What type of racial bias/sensitivity class will you [be] taking after your racist remarks in the Special Circs meeting on the Buggs case?” they added.
“What do you say to the victims’ families who, because of your actions injecting race into a death penalty analysis, their case is not getting the fair treatment and handling under the law that they are entitled to?”
The prosecutors also challenged Spitzer’s handling of an investigation he cited in firing senior prosecutor Ebrahim Baytieh, who wrote the original memos about Spitzer’s racial comments in the death penalty meeting.
The prosecutors are challenging Spitzer’s public description of the probe as being done by an “independent” law firm – suggesting it was actually done by someone who used to work for one of Spitzer’s top deputies Pat Dixon.
“Didn’t those lawyers actually previously work for Pat Dixon? If so, how is that independent?” the prosecutors ask in their letter.”
Spitzer and Dixon have declined multiple requests from Voice of OC to release the law firm’s report, and have not responded to a Public Records Act request last week for payment info that would reveal the firm’s name.
Spitzer fired Baytieh just before Baytieh could file his paperwork to run for judge, denying him the chance to put on the ballot that he’s a current prosecutor.
“Why should we believe Brahim’s firing was anything other than politically motivated?” the prosecutors asked in their letter.
Spitzer has created a culture that’s causing a “mass exodus” of prosecutors from the DA’s office, the prosecutors wrote.
“Employees are quitting at record rates,” they wrote.
“If you ask around you will find out it’s because of the low morale you cause by constantly embarrassing us. What do you plan to do about it?”
Spitzer has a fundamental problem with accepting responsibility, the prosecutors wrote.
“Are you willing to accept any responsibility for anything negative?” they asked in their letter.
“It appears that every single time there is any type of issue, whether internal to our office or external (something that affects politics, lawsuits, media attention, or the public), your response is always some variation of ‘let me tell you why I am not responsible for any part of this, let me point the finger at as many others as I can and blame them for everything, and let me reiterate how I did everything right,’ ” they added.
The prosecutors are calling on their boss to answer all of their questions.
“Will you have the courage to read these questions and do your best to answer them all candidly, to show that this meeting is about us, or will this meeting be just a commercial for you?”
Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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