Off Tran's Case

Republican DA plays partisan politics in Little Saigon

Video footage of the March rallies in Little Saigon shows Orange County District Attorney Anthony Rackauckas encouraged anti-communists to continue protesting against Westminster storeowner Truong Van Tran, the man Rackauckas' office is prosecuting on charges of video piracy.

In a brief he'll defend on May 14, Tran lawyer Ron Talmo argues that Rackauckas' case against Tran is politically motivated. He says the DA's office suspected Tran of illegal video copying in 1996 but did not act until Tran "exercised his rights under the First Amendment" by posting a portrait of Vietnamese communist Ho Chi Minh.

Talmo says there's one solution: throw the DA off Tran's case.

"I don't buy that logic," said assistant DA Dan Wagner. He asserted prosecutors knew nothing of Tran's alleged video piracy until this year. "Nothing indicates [the prosecution] would be unfair."

Other papers reported that Rackauckas merely appeared at a March 3 rally. But a review of videotape suggests Rackauckas and fellow Republicans served as anti-communist cheerleaders.

Like others before and after it, the March 3 rally was organized to condemn Tran for hanging a poster of Ho and a Vietnamese flag in his shop. Led by protest leader Ky Ngo to a stage outside Tran's store, Rackauckas thanked demonstrators for "inviting" him. He said he was speaking on behalf of "law enforcement" and argued that Tran's First Amendment rights should be protected. That suggestion was met with cries of "No!"

Rackauckas then smoothly switched directions, urging the demonstrators to continue their protest, saying, "We also must protect the rights of thousands upon thousands of the Vietnamese people who are here living with us, to send their message . . . that you are living here in a free society and that you're prosperous, and you're strong, and you reject communism . . . and you have no need for communist symbols here.

"I'm proud to be here. . . . I'm proud to be a part of this message," Rackauckas said, lauding the demonstrators for their "peaceful" protests.

Rackauckas was preceded on the podium by state Assemblyman Ken Maddox (R-Garden Grove), who accused Tran of celebrating a man who "murdered" more than 58,000 Americans and hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese. Maddox added, "Tran cowardly hides behind and abuses our Constitution, using it as a vicious weapon against his neighbors." Following Rackauckas to the stage, OC Republican Party chairman Tom Fuentes pinned-to loud applause-a Republican Party symbol ("E Publius Uno") on the lapel of protest leader Do Trong Duc, president of the Vietnamese Community of Southern California.

The tape seems to prove what Rackauckas' critics have charged since he launched his campaign for the DA job last year: he places his party's political ambitions ahead of his job to be an impartial officer of the law.

The decision to charge Tran "gives the appearance that criminal proceedings are being utilized as a means of 'shutting up' and shutting down the defendant's lawful business," Talmo wrote in his brief. He contrasts Rackauckas' willingness to prosecute Tran with his unwillingness to charge protesters with trespassing and noted that "no arrests were ever made of those protesters who physically assaulted" Tran.

"The inappropriateness of Mr. Rackauckas' support is further compounded by the fact that the protesters have, since Jan. 18, made it abundantly clear that if given the opportunity, they would cause physical harm to the defendant," Talmo asserted.

 
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