A high-level former Orange County prosecutor who oversaw District Attorney candidate Peter Hardin’s supervisor during his time at the OCDA has verified to Voice of OC the authenticity of a memo laying out concerns that Hardin developed a reputation as a “womanizer” during his time as a prosecutor – over reports he tried to date a former defendant and a former witness in cases he handled.
In response to questions from Voice of OC, retired senior prosecutor Jaime Coulter said the “womanizer” memo is real, and that Hardin was in fact counseled by his supervisors about his alleged workplace interactions with women, at a meeting shortly after the memo was written in August 2015.
Coulter says Hardin did not dispute the allegations during the 2015 meeting.
“The contents of that memo were discussed with him personally, face to face,” Coulter told Voice of OC in a pair of interviews Friday and Monday after being contacted by the news agency.
“I was present in the room when [Hardin’s direct supervisor] Jen Contini re-counseled him, pursuant to the memo,” added Coulter, who supervised all of the DA’s branch court operations when Hardin worked at DA’s Harbor court branch.
Hardin says Coulter is wrong.
“Mr. Coulter is mistaken,” Hardin said in a statement provided by his campaign via email.
“I would not forget being confronted with allegations from an unnamed man, that claimed conduct occurred involving unnamed women, when none of those supposedly involved ever complained or even anonymously corroborated the allegations made,” Hardin added in the remaining text of the statement he sent Voice of OC on this issue.
When asked about Hardin’s denials of being told about the memo, Coulter reaffirmed his recollection of the meeting.
“I stand by my statement, that we had the meeting directly face to face with him,” said Coulter, who during his OC DA tenure also supervised the Public Integrity Unit that handles corruption and election integrity cases.
The meeting in question was at Contini’s office in the Harbor courthouse in Newport Beach shortly after she wrote the Aug. 19, 2015 memo, according to Coulter, who was Contini’s direct supervisor at the time.
“We went over the substance of the memo, counseling [Hardin] in regards to what was written in the memo,” added Coulter.
“And then he left the DA’s office shortly thereafter. He resigned.”
Coulter’s account contradicts the picture Hardin was painting in his statements on the record – published by Voice of OC last week – when asked about the memo.
In casting doubt on the memo’s concerns, Hardin said no one ever told him about it until this year.
“I was never told about this memo or these allegations,” Hardin told Voice of OC in a Feb. 25 interview.
“I didn’t hear about this memo until Spitzer’s former communications director herself wrote about it for this right-wing Q-Anon conspiracy-type publication,” Hardin added, referring to a Washington Examiner article this January.
But Coulter – who at the time was the direct supervisor of Hardin’s boss Jennifer Contini, who is listed as writing the memo – says he was in the room when Hardin was told about it back in 2015.
Asked what Hardin’s response was to the allegations at the meeting, Coulter said: “He did not contest them.”
“He listened and gave the appearance of being contrite,” added Coulter.
The memo’s allegations – which Hardin disputed in his February interview with Voice of OC – included reports that Hardin tried to “hit on” a defendant just after his case was dismissed against her and tried to date another woman who had been a witness in a case he had prosecuted.
In that February interview, Hardin disputed all of the memo’s allegations. The memo states Contini received all of the information from someone who wanted to remain anonymous.
Hardin cast doubt on the memo’s concerns by contending he was never provided with the counseling it called for.
The memo included an “action plan” to “Counsel Peter on the reputation he has developed – appearnece [sic] of impropriety, lack of professionalism,” and “Caution him that the workplace is not place to spark romance — certainly not with [victims], witness or defendants.”
In the interview, Hardin said, “I was never provided with this counseling, which I think belies the validity of the statements.”
But Coulter says Hardin was in fact counseled as the memo envisioned – and that Coulter was in the room when it happened.
“He was counseled pursuant to the memo. And then…he left shortly after that. Left the DA’s office,” Coulter said.
Hardin submitted his resignation from the DA’s office two months after the memo, leaving for a federal prosecutor job at the regional U.S. Attorney’s Office based in Los Angeles.
He disputes that his departure had anything to do with the concerns laid out in the memo, saying he applied for the federal job before the memo was written.
Hardin’s supervisor found his alleged pattern of behavior to be a problem, according to the memo.
“Give [sic] the pattern that appears to be developing, there is clearly cause for concern,” the memo states.
“Peter needs to be put on noticed [sic] and counseled that: 1) As a representative of this office he is held to the highest standards, 2) Nothing other then [sic] the pursuit of justice should in any way influence his decisions as a prosecutor.”
Coulter quickly spoke on the record in interviews when Voice of OC contacted him after publishing Hardin’s denials about the memo last week.
The former senior assistant DA – who worked under three different OC DA administrations over nearly three decades – said he has not been contacted by any of the various DA campaigns.
Coulter retired from the DA’s office in March 2018 and entered private practice with a friend’s criminal defense law firm in Orange County.
Asked how common it was at the DA’s Office for him to have the kind of counseling session with a prosecutor such as the one he says he and Contini had with Hardin, Coulter said it was “unusual.”
“These allegations had surfaced, and it’s our duty as managers to follow up to see what is going on, and to correct the employee – assuming there was something,” he added.
“Our duty was to investigate these matters, to determine what’s going on and to correct it.”
Coulter said he was answering Voice of OC’s questions publicly to make the truth clear in the matter.
“It’s just a sense of duty,” Coulter said.
“That’s the truth, and the record should be stated accurately.”
Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at email@example.com.
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