For almost 20 years, Tony Rackauckas has reigned over Orange County regulation enforcement as district lawyer.
He’s survived allegations of cronyism and mismanagement whereas additionally profitable reward for prosecuting cops he accused of beating a homeless man to dying in Fullerton.
However none of these firestorms can examine to the jailhouse informant scandal that has swirled across the county’s legal justice system in recent times.
The snitch scandal has led to retrials in a lot of homicide instances, prompted a decide to bar Rackauckas’ workplace from prosecuting a confessed mass assassin and sparked state and federal investigations into the Sheriff’s Division and the district lawyer’s workplace. Not since the autumn of former Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona almost a decade in the past has native regulation enforcement been underneath such scrutiny.
Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens introduced final month that she wouldn’t search one other time period. Rackauckas absolutely intends to run for reelection in 2018, in what political observers assume will probably be a referendum on the snitch scandal and Rackauckas’ controversial tenure.
That listing of allegations may function a knockout blow for a politician in different elements of California. However in Orange County, a fiercely professional-regulation enforcement Republican enclave, the litany of scandals have barely grazed Rackauckas’ chin. His fame as a tough-charging lawman in a area that’s a fan of cops has led some native political specialists to assume he’ll emerge from the newest fracas unscathed.
County Supervisor Todd Spitzer, a nicely-funded Republican foe who has referred to as for the federal authorities to take over Rackauckas’ operation, stands able to oppose him subsequent yr. However there are doubts about whether or not Spitzer can succeed.
“The query that Orange County voters and residents might be asking subsequent yr is, do they really feel protected?” stated Jon Fleischman, former government director of the state Republican Social gathering. “Todd Spitzer will run, and he’ll increase a bunch of cash, however whether or not or not individuals hearth their regulation enforcement officers involves that query. Most individuals don’t learn the newspaper or watch the information. In the event that they really feel protected, they don’t need change.”
Different Republican heavyweights in Orange County assume Rackauckas must step apart so his workplace can have a clear slate.
“The considered Todd operating for D.A. has been the most important boon to Tony,” stated state Sen. John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa), who stated he doesn’t see both man as match for the workplace. “Tony shouldn’t be D.A. anymore. He shouldn’t have been D.A. for a very long time.”
The sector for the 2018 district lawyer’s race is way from set, however many anticipate it come right down to a contest between Rackauckas and Spitzer, a former state assemblyman and ex-assistant district lawyer who has an extended-operating feud with the county’s prime prosecutor. Each are family names amongst Republicans in Orange County, however most pundits assume Rackauckas would have the sting in an inner GOP struggle until the present scandals worsen.
“The current information concerning the troubles within the D.A. workplace would wish to go to a different degree to ensure that the native GOP to view Rackauckas as being too poisonous a candidate to help,” stated Stephen Stambough, a professor of political science at Cal State Fullerton.
Rackauckas final gained reelection with seventy three.three% of the vote in 2014, and just lately benefited from a grand jury report that dismissed allegations of a covert informant community as a “fable.”
Rackauckas’ marketing campaign supervisor, Dave Gilliard, stated he expects the grand jury’s tackle the informant scandal to resonate extra with voters than the continued accusations being made by native protection attorneys.
“There’s a variety of noise round it, however on the finish of the day, the grand jury labeled it a witch hunt,” he stated.
Rackauckas hailed the report as vindication, however the fallout from the allegations continues to rock the county. Weeks after the grand jury report was launched, an appellate courtroom upheld a ruling vacating the conviction of a person accused of murdering a pregnant lady, based mostly on prosecutors’ failure to reveal particulars a few jailhouse informant at trial.
Via a spokesman, Rackauckas stated his workplace stands able to retry the case.
The snitch scandal is way from the one controversy dogging Rackauckas nowadays. Final yr, a panel of authorized specialists commissioned by Rackauckas discovered he had created a tradition within the district lawyer’s workplace the place subordinates feared bringing troubling info to their boss. That report additionally stated some prosecutors had developed a “win in any respect prices mentality,” doggedly pursuing convictions even within the face of attainable violations of defendants’ constitutional rights, together with the informant scandal.
Final month, three former district lawyer’s investigators additionally made separate claims accusing Rackauckas and his circle of prime prosecutors of interfering in instances towards his political allies and overlaying up misconduct inside the Fullerton Police Division.
Rackauckas and Spitzer declined to be interviewed for this story. However each have lengthy histories in Orange County that would assist or harm them in what could possibly be an unsightly political conflict.
Rackauckas started his profession as a rising star within the district lawyer’s murder unit within the Nineteen Eighties, and gained political capital by campaigning towards a state Supreme Courtroom justice against dying penalty sentences. He was appointed to the judiciary in 1990, the place he earned some notoriety for displaying leniency to nonviolent defendants dealing with prolonged jail phrases beneath the state’s “three strikes” regulation.
As a youngster, Rackauckas was a part of a Lengthy Seashore gang and wound up spending some nights in juvenile detention amenities. Rackauckas selected to drop out of highschool and be a part of the Military to straighten himself out. After his stint with the armed providers, the longer term district lawyer enrolled in regulation faculty.
Rackauckas gained his first time period as district lawyer in 1998, driving a wave of frustration together with his predecessor, Mike Capizzi, who discovered himself within the crosshairs of the county’s Republican social gathering after he started to give attention to public corruption instances.
A 2002 grand jury report accused him of interfering in prosecutions towards marketing campaign donors, incomes an outright dismissal for one ally and a severely lowered sentence for an additional.
“Everyone sort of coalesced round Tony, however virtually from the get-go, he was getting grand jury studies about his poor administration,” Moorlach stated. “Right here we’re virtually 20 years later, and we’re nonetheless getting reviews about his poor administration.”
A two-time county supervisor and former state assemblyman, Spitzer has a document with its personal blemishes. He was fired from the district lawyer’s workplace in 2010 after Rackauckas accused him of misconduct. The 2 have been in a close to fixed confrontation since. In Might, Spitzer wrote a letter to U.S. Atty. Gen. Jeff Periods calling for a direct federal takeover of Rackauckas’ workplace, which he described as “in all probability probably the most disrespected district lawyer government workforce in California.”
Spitzer, a reserve Los Angeles police officer, additionally was concerned in a weird incident that noticed him handcuff a person who was “preaching the phrase of God” at a Foothills Ranch restaurant in 2015. The Orange County Sheriff’s Division determined to not convey expenses towards Spitzer or the person he handcuffed in that incident.
Some even have expressed considerations about his administration fashion. A lawsuit by a former worker accused Spitzer of getting a “15-minute rule,” which means he would dock the pay of staff who didn’t reply to his textual content messages inside that time-frame.
To some, the approaching race is much less a referendum on the scandals surrounding Rackauckas and extra an indictment of county politics usually.
“One thing has to enhance. That is an elected place,” Moorlach stated.