During its unprecedented, critical examination of the district attorney's office, the Orange County grand jury took sworn testimony from 68 witnesses. Jurors wanted to hear from 70, but two deputy DAs went missing during the investigation. Despite the fact that both "are extremely close to the district attorney," the panel said, no process server could find either, and the grand jury finished its work without them.
The first of the MIA DAs was Kay Rackauckas, wife of DA Anthony J. "Tony" Rackauckas, whose very conspicuous absence has already received much ink in the Weekly. The grand jury blasted Kay for wielding power far exceeding her official deputy DA status—for being, according to numerous sources familiar with the Rackauckas administration, the "real power in the office."
Sources familiar with the DA's office say the second missing witness was Susan Schroeder, wife of Rackauckas campaign boss Michael Schroeder and a close friend of Kay. Without testimony from Schroeder, the panel eventually found that she'd used DA office resources to assist in Rackauckas' 2002 reelection campaign.
Incredibly, Rackauckas pleaded that he couldn't help, not even to find his own wife who supposedly had just taken his child and shattered his marriage.
"The grand jury requested the assistance of the district attorney's office to locate the two witnesses, both of whom are extremely close to the district attorney, and were informed by the district attorney's office that they were unable to contact them," reported the panel with some skepticism.
Instead, rumors flew around the DA's office that Rackauckas and his wife had broken up, that she had fled to Mexico or Arizona with their 15-month-old son. Even the county CEO's office tired of the mystery and fired Kay Rackauckas on May 27, ending her six-figure county job forever.
Now sources say both Kay and Susan are back in town and at the DA's office, returning a few weeks after the grand jury panel's June 30 dissolution.
In Kay's case, her presence is unofficial, floating between her supposedly estranged husband's office and her other friends. But Schroeder, far from earning discipline, has been promoted.
"Susan Schroeder has returned from her leave of absence," wrote Chief Assistant DA Chuck Middleton in an July 24 e-mail obtained by Mike Madigan's Twisted Badge website. "Based on office needs, Susan has been assigned as media coordinator for the Alejandro Avila homicide case."
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
The irony is astonishing: Schroeder, who fled cameras and reporters for months while the grand jury inquired about her whereabouts, is now at the forefront of the highest-profile Orange County prosecution in decades.
Considering Schroeder's abrasive reputation, recent disappearance and the fact that the grand jury singled her out for criticism, it's hard to think of someone worse Rackauckas could have chosen for the post.
"OC Weekly, I don't think I like you," Schroeder told Weekly reporter Rebecca Schoenkopf during the March 2002 Republican election-night bash at the Sutton Place Hotel in Newport Beach. "You just write lies about Tony [Rackauckas] all the time. You just lie." Schroeder then walked away before providing any examples of "lies."
This is the sixth in a series of articles based on the Orange County grand jury's findings of corruption in the district attorney's office.