Editor's Note: Follow me on this: on Sept. 16, we ran "Gracious." In it, reporter Nick Schou argued that DA Tony Rackauckas (let's call him "TR," because who wants to spend all those vowels in just one place?) has failed to prosecute several high-profile cases, perhaps—just perhaps—because those cases involved his friends. Republican friends. Susan Schroeder, the DA's spokesperson, responded, saying that Schou's "article was misleading and inaccurate"; her full response appears in this issue's Letters section. What follows is Schou's response to Schroeder.
Unlike Susan Schroeder, I'm not surprised that Shirley Grindle, arguably the county's foremost advocate of good government, would send a campaign contribution to anyone running against Tony Rackauckas. But I am surprised that Schroeder, a former prosecutor whose job now is to polish the DA's reputation, would foolishly remind us of that fact. And how could Susan—seemingly alone among all of us—forget that TR declared (and the Register reported on Feb. 23, 2002) that his predecessor's interest in "political prosecutions" was "disproportionate"? Countless people present at countless Republican fund-raisers heard TR make the same claim in only slightly different ways: political corruption cases were the unfortunate obsession of his predecessor; TR would be different.
And he has been different. As my article made clear, he intervened notoriously in the Arnel tenant-fraud case, removing Arnel boss George Argyros' name from an indictment 90 or so minutes after TR's own prosecutor filed it. Perhaps he hoped to spare the Bush administration's ambassador to Spain the humiliation of simultaneously serving the court in Madrid and Central Court in Santa Ana. My colleague R. Scott Moxley has already covered the Argyros case admirably (readers can find it on the Weekly website), but I'll just remind them of Moxley's conclusion: when the controversy surrounding TR's failure to move against Argyros became too hot for him, TR did indeed turn the case over to California Attorney General Bill Lockyer. Republicans must thank God daily for such Democrats as Lockyer: without a second look—no additional investigation, no interviews, perhaps no reading—Lockyer quickly reached a generous settlement with Arnel and let Argyros off the hook.
I doubt that's the kind of tough justice Schroeder is talking about when she says "different agencies" "take the lead" on different cases in order to "obtain the greatest penalty." No, in TR's case it seems to mean that the DA reserves the right to decline to prosecute cases that might damage the Republican Party. Take the Catholic Church: in other jurisdictions, district attorneys are shredding local dioceses involved in the molestation scandal. In Philadelphia, for instance, the DA convened a grand jury whose subsequent report, released a few weeks ago, blasted the Archdiocese of Philadelphia's cover-up. In LA, DA Steve Cooley has been battling Cardinal Roger Mahoney over diocesan documents—documents that might lead to a final reconciliation of the damage done. I could go on with similar examples of DAs going where TR fears to tread, but you get the picture, and my colleague Gustavo Arellano has already covered this in grotesque detail. TR did nothing. Susan's claim that her boss "has filed more molestation charges than any surrounding counties" is simply, flatly wrong. In LA County in just one year, 2003, Cooley filed 11 cases; in all his years in office, TR has filed . . . four.
It's reasonable to argue that the real heroes in the church scandal are the victims themselves, their attorneys and my colleague, Gustavo Arellano. The Orange Catholic Diocese settled its myriad molestation cases only when it became clear that the media—by which I mean Gustavo Arellano—and plaintiffs' attorneys were connecting the dots from the church to the GOP: the attorneys threatened to depose several local Republican officials to find out what they knew about the scandal and when they knew it. Then the church coughed up $100 million, at the time the largest settlement in church history. Why was such justice left to the victims? How has Susan forgotten that record settlement and her boss's absolute silence in it?
Let's chalk it up to a momentary lapse of consciousness at hearing the uncomfortable truth: that she had by then blown our interview. See, when I asked her to provide a list of political corruption cases the DA had prosecuted, including any resulting in convictions or jail time, I was giving her the chance to prove that the DA had done his job. But she couldn't. Instead, she attempted to cross-examine me: she demanded that I list cases the DA had mishandled. That's when I told her—and I swear my tone was over-the-top facetious—that I was the one asking the questions. I like Susan and don't take our adversarial relationship personally, and it warmed my heart that she laughed at my joke. But if she's more comfortable engaging in cross-examination than answering questions from reporters, perhaps she should go back to her old job.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Orange County, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.