Out of His Skull

What do you get when you combine paranoia, ego and almost limitless power?
Answer: DA Tony Rackauckas

"Moxley would like to know what HCA's role was, information we found—test results, studies, etc., and if we provided any written comments on the Arco MTBE case," she wrote.

Thirty-eight minutes later she sent another e-mail, which said, "We have to be really careful with the Weekly!"

The next day Markley called and told me that reporters were not going to be given access to the county's MTBE information because the DA's lawsuit was ongoing. "Providing you information could jeopardize the case," she said.

What Markley didn't say was that HCA environmental director Denise Fennessy had been in contact with the DA's office to coordinate a plausible reason for denying my request for information. In a Dec. 10 e-mail from Deputy DA Aleta Bryant to Deputy DA Joe D'Agostino and Emard, Bryant said she had talked with Fennessy about strategies and expressed her concern about my inquiries. "I noted that, of course, we could not tell their agency what to do, but that, with settlement being so close, and the case still being subject to the confidentiality mandate imposed by the mediation process, our preference would be that they not discuss any details of the ARCO litigation with the press at this time, and especially not before any proposed settlement has received the court's blessing and become final," wrote Bryant. "They decided that they would not provide any detailed statement to OC Weekly regarding anything related to the ARCO litigation."

Twenty-four hours later, at 3:21 p.m. on Dec. 11—one day after falsely suggesting that the court had made confidential all county MTBE information—Bryant e-mailed Welborn at the Register. "Hi Larry," she wrote. "As you requested, I am attaching to this e-mail a list of the typical compliance violations that were committed by ARCO at their gasoline station sites throughout Orange County. Hope this helps."

That same day, Bryant e-mailed Reg graphics reporter Chantal J. Lamers. The e-mail is fascinating because it proves HCA officials knew they were participating in a conspiracy. "Hi Chantal," Bryant wrote. "Here is the graphic that has been forwarded to me so far by the OC Health Care Agency. They are still looking for additional or better ones, if they exist. They are supposed to let me know sometime tomorrow if they find them. If I am able to get my hands on a different or better one tomorrow, I will let you know. Hope you find this helpful."


Fired TR PR director Emard
remembers the Arco press conference clearly:
Journalists "just accepted what they were told."

The DA and HCA were not done sharing allegedly confidential information with the Register. Records show that at 12:05 p.m. on Dec. 13, the DA's office e-mailed Welborn precisely the information I had requested three days earlier: a list of contaminated sites.

At 2:53 p.m. that day, Bryant sent the following e-mail to Emard: "I am attaching copies of Exhibits A and B [of the ARCO settlement] to this e-mail for your reference and in case you want to forward them on to Larry Welborn."

Five days before DA staffers had notified other reporters about the settlement, they had given the Register reporter an exclusive two-hour briefing, and then interviews, charts, graphics, lists and settlement exhibits for the case. But their generosity was not yet exhausted. Bryant ended an e-mail to Emard by listing "for Larry Welborn" the telephone numbers of TR's ostensible opponents in the case, Jim Holscher and Sandra Ikuta, ARCO's two top attorneys. They "will be able to assist him," too, she wrote.

***

One of the most interesting, not to say ironic, aspects of the DA's media campaign involved the fabrication of quotes. TR says he hates "dishonest" journalism. In fact, last month, explaining to the Register why his office would not speak with Times reporter Pfeifer, TR compared Pfeifer to notorious New York Times reporter Jayson Blair. In a July 11 posting on his own website, TR alleged that a Pfeifer "quote" of a county supervisor in a June 11 article was "pure fabrication." It was a weird claim to make because it was so easily proved false: Pfeifer didn't quote the official, he paraphrased him. And he paraphrased him accurately.

But here's TR, now, in the Reg and on his own website, saying Pfeifer is the Jayson Blair of the Los Angeles Times, and that, hell, he's too busy worrying about the "protection and safety" of local citizens to engage in dirty-tricks campaigns against journalists.

And hey, you've almost got to admire Rackauckas for the balls it takes to say it, because a key tactic in the DA's ARCO media campaign was precisely this: the fabrication of quotes.

Documents show that on Dec. 9—eight days before the MTBE press conference—the DA's office e-mailed this message to the office of then-San Diego DA Paul Pfingst: "[W]e want to get third-party quotes on this case to help put it in perspective for the media." The next day, Lizbeth Pursell, Pfingst's assistant, responded: "Paul would love to give you some quotes, but could you give me a little more information about the case so he can say something intelligent? He knows nothing about it."

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