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Judge declines to remove OC DA from sex offender parole violation cases

A judge on Thursday denied a request by the Orange County Public Defender’s Office to remove the Orange County District Attorney’s Office from prosecuting five sex offenders accused of violating parole after being released early from local lockup.

The ruling by Orange County Superior Court Judge Gregg L. Prickett means that local prosecutors will remain on the parole revocation hearings of five sex offenders who were re-arrested shortly after Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer publicly condemned a court commissioner’s decision to release them from custody.

The cases marked the highest-profile flash point in a battle over early release for some Orange County inmates during the early-stages of the coronavirus pandemic.

After a court commissioner opted to allow seven “high risk” sex offenders accused of cutting off or tampering with their GPS monitors to be released after spending days in county jail, Spitzer and the DA’s office responded by putting out a community warning with their photos and description of their past crimes.

Spitzer also spotlighted the cases in a series of interviews with local and national press, alleging their release was part of a larger effort by court officials to reduce the local jail population. Those comments drew criticism from Public Defender Sharon Petrosino, who accused Spitzer of fear-mongering and distorting the facts of the cases to scare the public.

The seven sex offenders have since been re-arrested and accused of either failing to adhere to the terms of their supervision or tampering with their GPS units to make them inoperable.

Attorney’s for five of the men – Rudy Magdaleno, Thomas Edward French, Jerry Wayne Burks, Joe Anthony Gonzalez and Kyle Albert Winton – filed requests with the court in mid-May to recuse the OC DA’s office from their cases.

The public defenders in written motions to the court alleged that Spitzer’s public comments illustrated a conflict of interest that made it impossible for the men to receive fair parole revocation hearings.

The DA’s office responded that they have the right to inform the public about the men’s release into the community, denying that doing so creates a conflict of interest.

Prickett, in his written ruling, noted that Spitzer’s public involvement came after he heard concerns from his deputies, the prosecutors who were directly handling the cases. The judge concluded that “the statements attributed to Mr. Spitzer in the press, broadcast media, or in social media, do not rise to the level that these cases will not be prosecuted impartially, and these defendants will not receive fair hearings.”

Source: Orange County Register

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