Saying it’s time to end the 18-year, controversy-prone era of Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, 2018 election challenger Todd Spitzer issued a Wednesday letter assuring DA staffers he respects their public service and will restore honest management of the agency if he wins.
“Under [Rackauckas’] leadership, the office has been mired in scandal after scandal that threatens the integrity of our justice system and you, the office’s hardworking prosecutors, whose job and duty it is to go to court every day an answer, ‘Ready for the People,'” wrote Spitzer, a current county supervisor. “I have promised the citizens of Orange County that as the district attorney it will be the mission of the OCDA to pursue justice, improve public safety and protect the rights of victims, while always maintaining the highest professional and ethical standards . . . We must be on the side of truth.”
Spitzer, who has worked as a state assemblyman, assistant district attorney, high school teacher and reserve cop, also said the DA “is plain wrong” to exclude women from senior assistant DA positions.
The Rackauckas-Spitzer on-and-off-and-on-again feud dates back more than a decade, when I broke the news in 2004 that Spitzer contemplated a challenge once he’d reached a three-term limit in the state assembly. Employing the keep-your-enemies-close reasoning, the DA hired his nemesis in what was labeled a grooming relationship. But the two men clashed repeatedly and Spitzer found himself fired in 2010, resulting in dueling, emotional press conferences.
With the help of Sheriff Sandra Hutchens, Rackauckas proceeded to produce one of California’s biggest criminal justice system scandals stemming from People v. Scott Dekraai, a case about the 2011 Seal Beach salon massacre. Given that Dekraai took eight innocent lives—the most in county history, confessed and local juries aren’t hesitant to support state executions, prosecution teams nonetheless cheated to secretly ensure the defendant would land on San Quentin’s State Prison’s death row. The depths of the government’s misdeeds forced Superior Court Judge Thomas M. Goethals to block the ultimate punishment earlier this year. Goethals sentenced the defendant to a couple hundred years in prison without the possibility of parole, a major embarrassment for Rackauckas, who has developed a reputation as a horrible manager. Revelations in Dekraai demonstrated systemic corruption that became known nationally as the Orange County jailhouse informant scandal and landed the 74-year-old DA on CBS’s 60 Minutes.
Spitzer’s stumbled through several messes as well. In September, the county paid one of his former staffers $150,000 based on her allegations of wrongful termination and abusive conduct. County coffers took another hit a month earlier when officials paid $121,000 to the Voice of OC based on Spitzer’s attempt to thwart a California Public Records Act request pertaining to his conduct during a bizarre April 2015 incident at Wahoo’s Fish Tacos in Foothill Ranch. The supervisor felt threatened by an approaching man talking about the Bible, retrieved a gun from his vehicle, handcuffed the man and called 911. Deputies, however, let the person go without charges.
There’s an early, tentative winner in the fundraising game, however. Records at the Orange County Registrar of Voters show Rackauckas’ campaign committee possesses $200,000 cash on hand plus $21,000 in debt as of June 30. Spitzer’s account holds more than $1.27 million without debt. Attorney, Chapman Law graduate and former Brea mayor Brett Murdock, a second Rackauckas challenger, filed candidacy papers, but hasn’t yet disclosed campaign finance details.
Spitzer’s two-page letter to the DA’s staff is available to read on the supervisor’s Twitter account: @ToddSpitzerOC.
R. Scott Moxley has won Journalist of the Year honors at the Los Angeles Press Club; been named Distinguished Journalist of the Year by the LA Society of Professional Journalists; and hailed by two New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing Southern California law enforcement corruption.