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Election: Political, personal enemies Rackauckas and Spitzer square off for D.A.

Todd Spitzer says Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas is such a political animal that he is willing to endanger the public in order to look better in front of voters.

Rackauckas’ chief of staff says Spitzer, a sitting county supervisor, has a “malignant soul.”

And that was just what the two campaigns had to say about each other during two-day window on Wednesday and Thursday.

Looked at over time, with the Nov. 6 election just weeks away, the race for Orange County District Attorney is shaping up as one of the nastiest in Southern California.

The specifics of this week’s dust-up are connected to the investigation of a Newport Beach physician and his girlfriend charged in September with drugging and sexually assaulting seven women.

Spitzer says Rackauckas had enough evidence to arrest Grant William Robicheaux and Cerissa Laura Riley in January, but instead manipulated the case to capitalize on the worldwide publicity as part his re-election campaign.

Spitzer pointed to a January search warrant affidavit that described the suspects as would-be “predators.”

“They got caught red-handed engaged in malfeasance,” Spitzer said.

Rackauckas’ office noted that Spitzer’s distribution of the affidavit — which was public when Spitzer obtained it had been sealed by a judge by the time Spitzer passed it around, in a redacted form, to reporters — is another example of poor judgement.

Rackauckas’ chief of staff, Susan Kang Schroeder, termed Spitzer’s distribution of the documents as “flabbergasting and stunning.”

“Spitzer’s careless actions underscored his willingness to damage a rape case involving multiple victims simply for political gain,” Schroeder said.

“Todd revealed his truly malignant soul, of doing and saying anything, to get a political advantage.”

Best frenemies

For more than a dozen years, Spitzer has made it clear he wants to be district attorney.

And for awhile – a short while – Rackauckas was OK with that, even hiring Spitzer as a prosecutor and mentoring him for about a year. But the relationship, tenuous to begin with, soured in 2010 when Rackauckas fired Spitzer for reasons still under debate.

The feud only intensified over the years, with both men trading public jabs and Spitzer recently moving to take on Rackauckas at the ballot box.

In the three-way June primary for district attorney, Rackauckas finished a few percentage points ahead of runner-up Spitzer but well behind the combination of Spitzer and Democratic candidate Brett Murdock. On Nov. 6, voters will be choosing between Rackauckas and Spitzer.

The job both men want is daunting. The Orange County District Attorney’s office is one of the state’s most powerful, with a budget of $144.8 million and an annual caseload north of 60,000. Last year, according to data from the DA’s office, the conviction rate in Orange County was about 90 percent.

In his 20 years as district attorney, Rackauckas has never faced such fierce political competition. Spitzer and his “fire and retire” Rackauckas campaign is well funded and his message is strong. Spitzer’s campaign is endorsed by the Orange County Register.

Rackauckas’ message is about public safety and, broadly, questions about Spitzer’s temperament.

Both campaigns are well financed. Helping to fuel Rackauckas’ battle is a $245,000 independent expenditure from the 3,900-member deputies union, money that is being used to buy cable and radio advertising on his behalf. As of late September, Rackauckas’ own campaign had a cash balance of $80,930.

Spitzer’s fundraising has left him with a cash balance of $469,628. His attacks on Rackauckas have been pointed and spirited: The incumbent, Spitzer says, isn’t keeping anybody safe, pointing to what he says is state data showing a rise in violent crime locally. Meanwhile, Spitzer argues that Rackauckas refuses to accept responsibility for the “snitch scandal,” the years long misuse of jailhouse informants in Orange County to obtain convictions.

That scandal does create a difference between this campaign and the five others that Rackauckas has waged.

The misuse of informants and lack of transparency from the Sheriff’s Dept. led a superior court judge to remove Rackauckas’ office from the prosecution of Scott Dekraai, a confessed mass murderer who killed eight people in Seal Beach in 2011. The same judge cited those issues again last year, when he ruled that Dekraai should get life in prison, not the death penalty — the penalty that Rackauckas had promised to voters.

Also because of the snitch scandal, at least seven serious felony cases unraveled, with two convicted murderers getting sentences that hastened their release, and another man convicted of double murder getting a new trial.

Rackauckas also is criticized for failing to get guilty verdicts when he personally led the prosecution of three former Fullerton police officers who beat an unarmed homeless man who later died, Kelly Thomas, in 2011.

“Our campaign has been about exposing Tony Rackauckas’ lies, misdeeds and corruption. It’s unacceptable that while crime and rape have surged in our community Rackauckas allows a rampant culture of sexual harassment to live within his own office having to be exposed by the Orange County Grand Jury,” Spitzer said.

“The county’s most dangerous criminals have been freed because Rackauckas botched cases, trampled victims’ rights and put dangerous predators back on our streets.”

Fixes and fanny packs

Rackauckas has said mistakes by his office have been overblown by his political enemies and the media. He says he has changed procedures in his office to make sure informant problems aren’t repeated.

The law allows the use of informants except when the target is represented by a lawyer and has been formally charged.

“I have since put procedures in place at the OCDA ensuring the rights of all concerned in regards to the use of informants,” Rackauckas has said.  “But I do want something to be clear: We will not be deterred from doing our job of effectively prosecuting violent criminals, including gang members, because of some negative newspaper articles or allegations by public defenders or other defense attorneys.

“We are not walking on egg shells here.”

While that defense ignores the local judicial decisions against him, and a ruling by a state appeals court that described problematic behavior in the Orange County’s prosecutors office as “systemic,” it’s also only part of Rackauckas’ shift to offense.

Rackauckas, for his part, is lobbing several bombs in Spitzer’s direction.

Rackauckas chides Spitzer for a 2015 incident in which the supervisor carried a loaded handgun — secured in a fanny pack pouch — into a Foothill Ranch restaurant and made a citizen’s arrest of a street preacher who Spitzer deemed aggressive. Spitzer contends his citizen’s arrest was conducted by the book, but the sheriff’s department did not arrest the man in question.

Also, last year, the county was forced to pay $121,000 in attorney fees in a failed attempt by the county to prevent news organizations from getting access to emails and other documents Spitzer wrote about the incident.

“Spitzer … demonstrated his poor judgment when he handcuffed, detained and made an unwarranted citizen’s arrest of a local evangelist who was trying to speak to him on Good Friday. He then tried to stage a taxpayer funded cover-up so the press would not learn of his actions,” Rackauckas has said.

Rackauckas also references a wrongful termination lawsuit, in which a former Spitzer aid was paid $150,000 by the county after she accused Spitzer of forcing staff to work without pay and managing by fear and intimidation.

“Time and time again Spitzer has demonstrated the lack of temperament and judgment to be D.A.,” Rackauckas said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Source: Orange County Register

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