Tony Rackauckas must be frustrated at his inability to end public concern about the region's ongoing criminal-justice scandals centering on his office. Late last Friday afternoon, going into a three-day, holiday weekend, Rackauckas' Orange County district attorney's office (OCDA) dumped a so-called "audit" of his agency. The audit firm, selected by the DA, announced–drum roll, please–that OCDA is operating at a "high-level" and can do an even more outstanding job with a larger budget and minor tinkering.
Though the report suggests the agency has adequately addressed the festering informant scandal by boosting office-training seminars, there's oddly no mention of a lack of ethics that has marred more than three dozen known felony cases, including several death-penalty trials.
That continued Rackauckas defiance is probably why this week brought together two individuals for a national television broadcast on Al Jazeera America news network: Paul Wilson, the grieving husband of a woman murdered in the 2011 Seal Beach salon massacre, and Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the UC Irvine School of Law and one of the nation's most respected legal experts.
Coming from different perspectives, both Wilson and Chemerinsky are aghast that OCDA officials continue to insist they've never once cheated or covered up cheating by their law-enforcement partners at the Orange County Sheriff's Department (OCSD)–even though Superior Court Judge Thomas M. Goethals recused the entire agency in March from People v. Scott Dekraai, the Seal Beach killer, for those very misdeeds.
During the pending appeal of Goethals' ruling, Rackauckas is hoping his future, hand-picked panel to study jailhouse-informant-program cheating will dampen public outrage, but Chemerinsky, who in April called for the creation of a blue-ribbon commission to investigate the mess, now also wants the U.S. Department of Justice to launch a second independent probe because of "systematic" constitutional violations.
"If somebody who is in a jail on his or her own talks to a cellmate or another inmate, then there's no problem with the person who's receiving the information turning it over to the police, to the deputy sheriffs, to the district attorney's office," he explained on the national news broadcast. "But what is impermissible is to try to arrange to gather information through the use of jailhouse informants–because then it really is about circumventing the person who is in jail's right to an attorney, the right to remain silent. And what apparently has occurred here is they've done exactly what is prohibited."
Calling the work of OCDA and OCSD "serious, major constitutional violations," Chemerinsky said prosecution teams here have created an unwritten but effective policy "to undermine" the Constitution.
"I think an investigation by the United States Department of Justice would be appropriate," he said. "I also think the state on its own should create a top-level, blue-ribbon commission with full investigative power to find out what happened."
To Wilson, there was no need for law-enforcement cheating in the Dekraai case because he confessed to the shooting shortly after his arrest, and OCDA shenanigans have stalled the case.
"I can't tell you–um–when I gotta go to court, I sit in the very front row," he said during the TV interview. "I–I mean I sit 10 feet away from the guy who murdered my wife, and it drains me. It's just–just takes everything out of my soul to have to do it that day. And to know that because of the District Attorney and their negligence and their stupidity, that I gotta endure probably another four to six years of this is sickening."
OCDA officials spent more than three years publicly blaming delays in the Dekraai case on his lawyer, Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders. In the past year, however, the agency has been forced to admit it stalled proceedings by hiding more than 10,000 pages of records and making Sanders divert his attention to fighting for the release of those documents–many of which demonstrated the massive extent of prosecution team cheating with informants.