Scandals continue to mount for Orange County D.A.
Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, currently serving his fourth term as the elected prosecutor of the sixth most populous county in the United States, has vowed to seek reelection in 2018. Although he won reelection in 2014 with over 73% of the vote, the longtime prosecutor has been plagued by scandals that put his political future in doubt.
In January 2016, a special committee — established by Rackauckas himself — concluded there was a “failure of leadership” at D.A.’s office which “led to repeated problems with the handling of jailhouse informants and helped erode confidence in criminal cases that rely on their testimony.”
The California Attorney General and federal authorities are currently investigating his office over allegations that he planted jailhouse snitches in the county jail — and that Rackauckas’s office was aware that those snitches had been proven unreliable in the past.
A grand jury convened in Orange County also investigated the snitch issue. Although it “found no definitive evidence of a structured jailhouse informant program operating in the Orange County jails,” the Grand Jury did find “discovery violations in a small number of cases,” and, perhaps most critically, that “[b]oth the Orange County District Attorney and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department allowed employees to drift from the core organizational mission of their agencies and this lax supervision has unfortunately resulted in the erosion of trust in the criminal justice system.” (OC Weekly reporter R. Scott Moxley, who has covered Rackauckas and his office closely, ridiculed the Grand Jury’s findings.)
Rackauckas’ office was also removed from the death penalty prosecution of Scott Dekraai after the presiding judge became angry at prosecutors’ failure to turn over evidence to Dekraai’s lawyers. Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals said prosecutors failed to turn over important evidence multiple times and found Sheriff’s deputies “intentionally lied or willfully withheld material evidence from the court” — and that the district attorney’s office was responsible for the acts and omissions of those deputies.
Two investigators who worked for Rackauckas also claim that the district attorney interfered in multiple investigations and engaged in cover ups when police broke the law. A former chief investigator in the office has alleged that Rackauckas interfered in public corruption investigations that involved people who’d supported him.
Rackauckas couldn’t even launch his reelection bid without a scandal. Earlier this year, ACLU attorney Brendan Hamme and another person protesting against Rackauckas were hit by a car driven by a supporter of the district attorney outside a fundraiser for Rackauckas as he launched his reelection bid. No one was seriously hurt, although Hamme was taken to the hospital and then released.
Earlier this week, Rackauckas got his first opponent for the 2018 election. How much these and other scandals will these burden Rackauckas’s reelection efforts remains to be seen.