It turns out that even though he's no longer an assistant district attorney, Todd Spitzer still has insatiable prosecutorial instincts, and his current suspect is none other than an old, bitter nemesis from the Orange County district attorney's office: Susan Kang Schroeder.
In an 18-page complaint (including attachments) filed just before lunch today, Spitzer told District Attorney Tony Rackauckas that Schroeder, his media-relations director and chief of staff, improperly "used government resources to orchestrate a campaign" against him in his current race for Orange County supervisor.
The affair, which I'll tentatively call Titlegate though Schroeder labels it "character assassination," began with a Jan. 20 Spitzer campaign staff flub: an email press release for a Third District election forum describing its candidate as "Assistant District Attorney, former Orange County Supervisor [and] small-business owner."
It's hardly a secret in the county's legal/politics/government circles that Spitzer, once Rackauckas' heir apparent, lost his assistant DA post in Oct. 2010, after the DA fired him in a scandal involving cries of disloyalty and counter cries of corruption.
When Spitzer saw the error in the press release, he ordered his staff to issue a new, edited version that was emailed to the community about 50 minutes after the first release. The word "former" was included. "I didn't think it was a big deal," he told me today. "It was a typo."
But Spitzer claims Schroeder and his supervisorial opponent, Deborah Pauly, "sophomorically" conspired to use the title error during a Jan. 23 candidate forum at the Doubletree Hotel in Orange.
At the forum, Pauly produced for the public a letter on OCDA letterhead from Schroeder to Spitzer. Its contents included: "It is outrageous for you to identify yourself as an 'assistant district attorney' in your press release today to become Orange County Supervisor for the Third District. . . . It is misleading, to say the least, to continue identifying yourself as an 'assistant district attorney' and exploiting the title for political gain."
Spitzer tells me he didn't know what Pauly was talking about at the forum because he hadn't received any letter from Schroeder, the DA's closest aide, and the press release typo had been quickly corrected.
Curious, the former assistant DA--a former reserve LAPD cop--investigated and, he says, discovered computer-verified records that Schroeder had opened and read both the first and corrected press releases within one minute of them being delivered.
Almost five hours after the second press release, Pauly somehow knew to file a California Public Records Act request with Schroeder for "any letters or documents that have been mailed or emailed from the OCDA's office to Todd Spitzer within the past week, up to and including today (Friday, Jan. 20)."
Less than four business hours later and just before the Monday candidates' forum, Senior Assistant District Attorney William J. Feccia emailed Pauly PDFs of the Spitzer campaign's uncorrected press release and Schroeder's letter to Spitzer in complaint. He did not include the corrected press release or mention that Schroeder's letter, though dated Jan. 20, had not yet been mailed to Spitzer.
"In her request, Pauly asked Susan for letters mailed to me through Jan. 20 and on Jan. 23 Feccia gave her a letter Schroeder mailed to me on Jan. 24," said a laughing Spitzer.
He showed me and Rackauckas proof that Schroeder's letter was postmarked Jan. 24, one day after it had been given to Pauly.
"She ignored the correction, wrote a libelous letter, tipped off my opponent to the letter, and then intentionally mailed it after it could be used in the first candidate's forum, where, indeed, my opponent produced the letter [that] had not yet been mailed to me until the following day," Spitzer advised Rackauckas in the complaint. "There is simply no other rational and reasonable explanation other than your chief of staff is using government resources to orchestrate a campaign against me and creating political propaganda that she and her husband [Michael Schroeder] and my opponent can then use against me in my campaign."
Susan Schroeder told me that she considers Spitzer's complaint "desperate" and "hysterical" and she isn't backing off her charge that "Todd purposely tried to use his old title."
"His letter is five pages loaded with errors," she said. "It's just more of the same, old Todd and his 'ready, fire, aim' style."
Asked to be specific, Schroeder denied she'd done any political work at the DA's office, said her letter to Spitzer was mailed before the postmark and promises to write a detailed response to "this character assassination."
Despite Spitzer's computer evidence otherwise, she also denied that she saw the corrected press release before writing the letter.
"I didn't see it," Schroeder told me. "I wasn't aware of it and it doesn't matter. He should just slink away."
Mike Schroeder, a former chairman of the California Republican Party, and Rackauckas had publicly backed ex-state Assemblyman Chuck DeVore against Spitzer in the supervisors' race before DeVore took a job in Texas and Pauly, a Villa Park councilwoman, entered the contest. Indeed, Schroeder had reserved the powerful Howard Jarvis pro-taxpayer slate mailer for DeVore's campaign against Spitzer. When DeVore quit the race, the slate mailer refunded Schroeder his money and Spitzer quickly capitalized by reserving it for himself.
The male Schroeder is presently the California political director for Newt Gingrich's presidential campaign.
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Spitzer says Susan Schroeder's use of government equipment, resources and time in an alleged effort to score campaign points against him represents "a direct conflict of interest and an absolute appearance of impropriety."
Given Schroeder's rank in the office, he wondered if the DA's office could fairly investigate the matter or whether Rackauckas should refer the case to the California Attorney General's office.
In related news this afternoon, Spitzer's campaign--which has been endorsed by supervisors Pat Bates and Janet Nguyen as well as Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens--alerted reporters that it has nearly $1.1 million in election funds compared to Pauly's $1,247.
--R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly