The District Attorney drama in Orange County continues. It reminds me of the Jim Sleeper book on Orange County history, titled "Turn the Rascals Out: The Life and Times of Orange County’s Fighting Editor Dan M. Baker."
So, let’s provide a little history about recent Orange County District Attorneys, with the assistance of the internet. If history is not your thing, then jump down to the LA Times article below (also see MOORLACH UPDATE — Surprise! — July 11, 2017 july 11, 2017 john moorlach).
We start with Cecil Hicks, who served as Orange County District Attorney from 1966 to 1989 (see http://articles.latimes.com/2007/apr/01/local/me-hicks1). This link provides an introduction to his successor, Michael Capizzi.
Orange County Michael Capizzi would emulate his mentor. But he made a major move, or misstep, depending on which side of the story you’re on, in pursuing campaign concerns with former State Assemblyman Scott Baugh (see http://articles.latimes.com/1996-03-24/news/mn-50862_1_top-capizzi). A review of these actions were addressed in the LOOK BACK for November 2, 1997 at MOORLACH UPDATE — OC Register — November 2, 2012 november 2, 2012 john moorlach).
As a postscript, Michael Capizzi, who served as the OC DA from 1989 to 1998, failed in is attempt to become California’s Attorney General. He would follow that with a failed campaign to be elected to a Superior Court judgeship. So, you now have the context for my quote below in the LA Times piece on the race to become the next District Attorney in 2019.
Michael Capizzi was the DA when the OC bankruptcy occurred. He had received all of the audit reports prepared by then OC Auditor-Controller Steven Lewis, but decided to prosecute the OC Supervisors, those who had not termed out at the end of 1994, anyway. You can see the ire of the Board of Supervisors in the July 21, 1998 LOOK BACK, as they performed probably the only review of countywide elected officials, at MOORLACH UPDATE — I-405 Hearing — July 24, 2013 july 24, 2013 john moorlach.
Michael Capizzi also settled independently with Merrill Lynch and sealed the investigation records, which rightfully sent the County’s leadership into a tizzy. See the June 20, 1997, LOOK BACK at MOORLACH UPDATE — Community Volunteers — June 20, 2012 june 20, 2012 john moorlach, the July 24, 1997, LOOK BACK at MOORLACH UPDATE — OC Register — August 23, 2012 august 23, 2012 john moorlach, and the June 17, 1998, LOOK BACK at MOORLACH UPDATE — Voice of OC — June 18, 2013 june 18, 2013 john moorlach and MOORLACH UPDATE — OC Register — August 23, 2012 august 23, 2012 john moorlach.
The July 22, 1998 LOOK BACK in the same link provides a little history of the transition between Michael Capizzi and his successor, Tony Rackauckas. As a piece of trivia, then Supervisor Todd Spitzer is included in the discussion. For another similar link, see June 23, 2008, at MOORLACH UPDATE — Begets a New Vote — June 25, 2012 june 25, 2013 john moorlach.
Tony Rackauckas would have to decide on the fate of these bankruptcy Supervisors, as an obvious conflict of interest concern needed to be addressed. See the November 3, 2000, LOOK BACK at MOORLACH UPDATE — Election Night — November 3, 2010 november 3, 2010 john moorlach and the March 9, 2001 LOOK BACK at MOORLACH UPDATE — Patch.com — March 9, 2011 march 9, 2011 john moorlach.
For a fun overall review of the bankruptcy, from the tenth anniversary perspective, Rick Reiff has a great column in the December 13, 2004, LOOK BACK at the MOORLACH UPDATE — Election Night — November 3, 2010 november 3, 2010 john moorlach.
There you have some fifty years of OC DA history. And as a new chapter begins on this office, the drama will get more interesting over the next year, I’m sure.
Orange County D.A. is investigating his biggest critic — a former ally — as ugly political battle looms
By Adam Elmahrek
Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas had groomed his senior prosecutor Todd Spitzer as his successor — and then he fired him.
The termination seven years ago set off a bitter political rivalry that is expected to culminate in 2018 when the two face off in an election for Orange County’s top prosecutor.
But their campaigns are likely to be complicated by one fact: Spitzer has been the subject of an investigation by Rackauckas’ office and state authorities, according to four sources familiar with the probe.
The Orange County district attorney’s office and the Fair Political Practices Commission have been looking at how Spitzer raised campaign money.
They also are examining the supervisor’s hiring of a former legal client who said she paid off a legal debt to Spitzer by working for his campaign and in his supervisorial office, the sources said. No one has been charged or accused of wrongdoing.
‘Two kids … hitting each other’
“It’s just going to be viewed down here as political rivalry,” said Shirley Grindle, the county’s longtime campaign finance watchdog and a vocal critic of Rackauckas. “The two kids on the block hitting each other.”
Last year, Rackauckas accused Spitzer of “falsely impersonating” a prosecutor in robo-calls promoting a ballot measure. And in May, Spitzer sent a letter to U.S. Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions calling for a federal takeover of the district attorney’s office and accusing Rackauckas of misconduct, including interfering in political corruption investigations.
Rackauckas’ office didn’t return phone calls for comment. Spitzer declined to comment in a message sent to a reporter by an advisor.
Grindle and others said that this investigation is unusual because Rackauckas’ office has prosecuted so few political figures. By contrast, Rackauckas’ predecessor, Michael Capizzi, had a reputation for his aggressive pursuit of political corruption dating back to the 1970s, when as a prosecutor in the office, he brought charges against dozens of elected officials, including two county supervisors and a former congressman.
“If anything, Tony has been very laissez-faire about investigating elected officials,” said state Sen. John Moorlach, a former elected county treasurer and ex-county supervisor. “He’s the anti-Mike Capizzi.”
In May, Rackauckas’ former chief of investigations, Craig Hunter, filed a claim against the office alleging that Rackauckas “interfered in political corruption criminal investigations in the County of Orange, involving candidates that he endorsed politically.” The district attorney’s office has denied the allegations and called them an attempt by a former official “to get money from Orange County taxpayers,” according to reports in Voice of OC and the Orange County Register.
District attorney probing financial questions
The Times spoke to three witnesses who said they had been contacted by investigators as part of the probe: Spitzer’s former chief of staff George Cardenas, ex-campaign staffer and former chief of staff Mike Johnson, and a woman who worked for both the campaign and Spitzer’s supervisorial office, Christine Richters.
Also, sources familiar with the investigation who spoke on condition of anonymity described the outlines of the investigation to The Times.
The investigation focuses specifically on whether Spitzer improperly spent campaign funds for personal benefit at places such as Costco, sources told The Times.
Investigators are also looking into whether Spitzer violated any laws when he hired a former legal client, Richters, to his campaign and later his supervisorial office, according to Richters and other sources.
In an interview with The Times, Richters said she told investigators she owed money to Spitzer to cover legal bills she racked up when Spitzer represented her as a private attorney. She said she did not have the means to pay him. So, she told investigators, they agreed on a deal in which she would work for his 2012 supervisorial campaign — and later his supervisorial office — then pay him back with money she earned.
Richters said she told prosecutors she deposited paychecks from the campaign fund and public money from the supervisor’s office and gave the cash back to Spitzer. She met Spitzer at the county parking lot and her home to give him the cash, which she told investigators totaled about $7,000.
A second source told The Times that this is roughly the account Richters gave to investigators.
Johnson, another former campaign staffer and ex-chief of staff, told The Times that he drove Richters home frequently and, on one of those occasions, he gave a check to Richters; she then told him that she was giving the money right back to Spitzer, Johnson said.
Richters is now suing Spitzer for wrongful termination and alleges in her lawsuit that he had a “raging temper.” The suit does not mention paying Spitzer money she made while working for him.
Can a district attorney investigate a rival?
Bruce Green, director of the Louis Stein Center for Law and Ethics at Fordham University, said the Spitzer investigation could present hurdles should the district attorney’s office attempt to prosecute.
“The opposing candidate, if he ever were indicted, would have a pretty good argument that the prosecutor’s office has an impermissible conflict of interest,” Green said. “The prosecutor should be concerned and the public should be concerned.”
The investigation could also indirectly give Rackauckas a campaign advantage against Spitzer.
“It does create a risk that people who are potential donors will perceive they are in jeopardy if they contribute to the opponent under investigation,” Green said.
Rackauckas has himself been in the political hot seat recently, including a scandal over his office’s use of jailhouse snitches in criminal cases. The state attorney general’s office and federal Department of Justice are still investigating the matter.
The Fair Political Practices Commission — which partnered with Rackauckas in the Spitzer probe — is also investigating whether Rackauckas violated state law by failing to report donations he requested be made to a nonprofit, and by approving public funds to promote his chief of staff’s partner in a music marketing business.
Rackauckas is also contending with two claims filed by his own investigators, including Tom Conklin — who sources say is the lead investigator in the Spitzer case — alleging that Rackauckas and his circle of top prosecutors engaged in misconduct and coverups.
One case involved a former Cypress Police Department investigator accused of committing perjury during a capital murder trial. Another revolved around the alleged coverup by Fullerton police of a former city manager’s drunk driving. Conklin and the other investigator said in their claim that they were retaliated against for testifying before the grand jury about the district attorney’s office.
Spitzer, a two-time county supervisor and former state assemblyman, is probably the most formidable opponent Rackauckas has faced. He is an aggressive campaign fundraiser and he has seized on the scandals dogging Rackauckas by presenting himself as a crusader against abuses of power by the district attorney’s office.
Real scandal or desperation?
A spokeswoman for Rackauckas slammed Spitzer’s call for the federal government to take over the district attorney’s office as a shameless ploy.
On Monday, after announcing he would challenge Rackauckas next year, Spitzer quickly went after the top prosecutor.
“I refuse to stand by as Tony Rackauckas destroys the district attorney’s office and uses it as his own personal fiefdom for he and his cronies while the public’s safety suffers,” Spitzer said in a news release.
A campaign consultant for Rackauckas responded: “Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas is proud to run on his record of keeping local citizens safe and proud of the fact that he is supported by the county’s law enforcement and crime victim leaders as well as the major elected officials who know both candidates.”
This e-mail has been sent by California State Senator John M. W. Moorlach, 37th District.
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