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Orange County DA retaliated against subordinate, new claim alleges

Office of the Orange County District Attorney

Orange County DA retaliated against subordinate, new claim alleges

Embattled Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas has another scandal on his hands.

A veteran prosecutor, Karen Schatzle, has filed a claim against Rackauckas’ office after the district attorney allegedly retaliated against her when she chose to unsuccessfully run against an incumbent superior court judge. Schatzle is seeking $5 million in damages.

Schatzle claims she was ordered not to run against Superior Court Judge Scott Steiner in 2016 because Rackauckas had an “unwritten policy” discouraging his prosecutors from running against incumbent judges. Rackauckas ended up endorsing Steiner in that election over his own subordinate.

Schatzle’s claim states that “She was specifically told that DA Rackauckas did not want her to run for election against incumbent Judge Steiner, and, further, that her ‘career’ as a prosecutor would be damaged if she chose to run for judicial office against him.”

Steiner had been censured by the Commission on Judicial Performance for having sex with two different women in his chambers, asking prosecutors to give one of the women a job, and failing to recuse himself from a case involving a personal friend.

But that scandal wasn’t enough for Schatzle to prevail; she lost the election by almost 13 points. At one point during the race, Schatzle remarked that her decision to run was “career suicide.

Schatzle claims Rackauckas punished her by transferring her to the office furthest away from her home, giving her assignments that she was overqualified for, denying her multiple chances at promotions, and denying her requests for transfers.

Rackauckas released a statement in response, saying that Schatzle has the same job and responsibilities she had before running against Steiner.

“Since 2015, (Schatzle’s) work assignment has been `team leader’ in Branch Court Operations,” Rackauckas said. “During this time, she has maintained the same job title, same salary schedule and same job duties.”

As In Justice Today has previously reported, Rackauckas has drawn a challenger for his 2018 reelection bid in the wake of numerous scandals.

He recently declined to charge a police officer who shot an unarmed black teenager, despite the fact that it was the second time that the officer fatally shot an unarmed man.

Rackauckas generated national attention after a judge ordered his office removed from the death penalty prosecution of Scott Dekraai because of his office’s failure to turn over evidence. Earlier this month, the same judge said Dekraai could not be sentenced to death because of the actions of Rackauckas and his office.

Several investigators in his office also claim that the district attorney interfered in multiple investigations and engaged in cover ups when law enforcement broke the law. A January 2016, a special committee that Rackauckas himself set up concluded that there was a “failure of leadership” within his office.

Yet another example of the danger of relying on eyewitness testimony

Ohio man freed after another man confesses to crime

Cuyahoga County Courthouse

Yet another example of the danger of relying on eyewitness testimony

Ohio man freed after another man confesses to crime

A Cuyahoga County man who was just about to get a long prison sentence has been released after another man confessed to the same crime.

Deontae Wilson was “minutes away” from being sentenced in July when word broke that another man may have been responsible for the crime. Wilson was released from jail in August after prosecutors determined he could not be guilty.

The case shows the dangers of relying purely on eyewitness testimony to convict someone. There was no physical evidence Wilson was guilty, but both victims identified Wilson as their attacker. The office of Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley chose to prosecute based on their eyewitness testimony.

Wilson was convicted of 14 counts of aggravated robbery, felonious assault and aggravated burglary in February.

According to the National Registry of Exonerations, a man with a gun confronted a 32-year-old woman in her driveway in Cleveland and demanded money. The woman was then forced into the basement of her home, where the assailant and another man tied up the woman, her boyfriend and her nine-year-old daughter. The two men robbed the house and the woman was physically assaulted.

When the woman told her landlord what happened, she mentioned that the first man had a missing tooth. The landlord thought of Wilson, whose tooth is also missing. He pointed out a photo of Wilson on Facebook and the woman positively identified him as the man who attacked her.

She and her boyfriend both testified that Wilson was the man who attacked them, although the child was unable to say if it was Wilson. Common Pleas Judge Nancy Fuerst found Wilson guilty after a three day trial.

While Wilson was awaiting sentencing he told his lawyer that another man in the Cuyahoga County jail, who also had a missing tooth, had admitted to him that he was the one who had committed the robbery. The lawyer informed prosecutors and the judge on the morning Wilson was supposed to be sentenced, and the sentencing was delayed while the issue was investigated.

Three weeks after Wilson was originally scheduled to be sentenced prosecutors vacated the conviction and Wilson was let out of jail. The motion to vacate said Wilson “cannot be guilty of this matter beyond a reasonable doubt.”

For years experts have said eyewitness identification is unreliable, but prosecutors have continued to trust it.

The Innocence Project has said “Eyewitness misidentification is the greatest contributing factor to wrongful convictions proven by DNA testing, playing a role in more than 70% of convictions overturned through DNA testing nationwide.”

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California prosecutor punished a second time for conduct in prosecuting high profile child molestation case

California prosecutor punished a second time for conduct in prosecuting high profile child molestation case

The State Bar of California has given a public reproval to a San Mateo prosecutor after ruling that she made false statements about a potential witness in a criminal case.

Under a settlement agreement, Deputy District Attorney Melissa McKowan stipulated to one count of violating the business and professions code while she was prosecuting the child molestation case of William Ayres. It is the second time McKowan has faced discipline due to her conduct in the Ayres case.

The arrest and prosecution of Ayres generated national attention because he was a prominent child psychologist before he was arrested and charged with molesting numerous underage male patients.

Ayres first trial in 2009 ended in a hung jury. Before he was to be retried in 2013, Ayres pleaded no contest to the charges and was sentenced to eight years in prison. He died in 2016 while still locked up.

After Ayres’ first trial ended in a mistrial, journalist and victim’s advocate Victoria Balfour expressed concern about McKowan’s conduct and filed a complaint against her. In that complaint, Balfour accused McKowan of lying to a victim’s mother about having talked to a potential witness who could rebut Ayres’ defense that his physical examination of patients was proper.

McKowan later admitted she hadn’t contacted that potential witness and the San Mateo District Attorney’s Office suspended her for three days and placed a formal reprimand letter in her file in 2012. The California Bar also issued a private reproval against McKowan in 2013.

McKowan’s misconduct, however, continued. In May 2013, she sent an email to the father of another child who claimed Ayres had molested him and lied about Balfour’s earlier accusations against her. She wrote: “Every agency that has been forced into investigating this case by (Victoria) Balfour has found that her accusations are entirely false and have no bases whatsoever.”

Robert K. Sall, special deputy trial counsel for the State Bar, said McKowan’s email contained information that the prosecutor knew was not true, and Sall lodged additional disciplinary charges against her. As reported in The Almanac, “[i]n the complaint, Mr. Sall says that neither the DA nor the state bar found that accusations by Ms. Balfour, a victim’s advocate, to be ‘entirely false’ or to have ‘no bases whatsoever,’ adding that Ms. McKowan ‘willfully violated Business and Professions Code … by engaging in dishonesty and moral turpitude.’”

McKowan ultimately agreed to the reproval after admitting that she had engaged in “misrepresentation.”

Balfour, who has “been credited for shedding light on Ayres’ crimes after a victim confided in her,” blamed the District Attorney’s Office for what she described as delayed accountability.

“This all could have been avoided seven years ago had the DA not ignored my complaints,” Balfour said. “This is about victims’ rights and having the victims be treated with respect. It shouldn’t have to be this hard to get the DA’s office to be held accountable for its actions.”

As part of the settlement, McKowan is prohibited from commenting on blog posts or social media about the Ayres case. She is still a deputy prosecutor in the office of Steve Wagstaffe, who said it wasn’t appropriate for him to comment.

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