A Fox in the Henhouse

Why wont DA Tony Rackauckas do his job?

"Capizzi" is Mike Capizzi, Rackauckas' immediate predecessor, a man who famously investigated high-profile Republicans on political corruption charges. And Schroeder has made much of the fact that Grindle contributed $1,000—the legal limit—to Capizzi's hand-picked successor, Wally Wade, during Wade's 1998 campaign against Rackauckas. "She was offended that Rackauckas wouldn't continue that clubby relationship, so she supported Wally Wade," he says.

As the Weekly and numerous other sources have already reported, Rackauckas ran against Wade on a pledge to soft-pedal prosecutions of political corruption in Orange County. Grindle says that's why she supported Wade.

"Rackauckas made no bones about the fact that preventing political corruption was not going to be high on his list," Grindle says. "I remember him saying that—what a stupid statement. He's specifically charged under the campaign-finance ordinance with enforcing county campaign laws. That's his job."

Grindle is a gracefully aging, grandmotherly activist who realizes most people don't care about election laws, which is exactly why she's made it her personal mission to enforce them. But her filing cabinets are getting full, and Grindle is getting tired. She knows she can't keep up her work forever, and the fact that nobody else is ready to take her place worries her.

"I wonder what's going to happen when I'm gone," she says.

That's a question on the minds of many local reporters and political observers who have come to rely on Grindle. "Shirley performs an underappreciated role in Orange County because she essentially is our ethics commission," says Jean Pasco, who covers county politics for the LA Times. "Public officials don't like her because they believe she nitpicks, that she attempts to criminalize paperwork errors. But Shirley sees it more in the vein of bringing down Al Capone because he didn't file his income-tax forms."

If Rackauckas is like Al Capone, then Grindle is Eliot Ness, says Mark Petracca, head of the political science department at UC Irvine.

"Ethically, Shirley Grindle is the Mother Teresa of OC campaign-finance reform," he says. "She's like Kevin Costner's character Eliot Ness in The Untouchables—she's dogged, determined and beyond reproach. And because she's all that, she's annoying to some people. But you've got to be annoying to get anything done in campaign finance because there's an inclination to just look the other way."

NSCHOU@OCWEEKLY.COM

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