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Stanton: It's D.A. Who Should Be Investigated

Bankruptcy: Supervisors chairman hints at political motive in Capizzi's pursuit of officials. He seeks audit.

September 18, 1996|SHELBY GRAD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SANTA ANA — The chairman of the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday publicly challenged Dist. Atty. Michael R. Capizzi's handling of the civil and criminal cases stemming from Orange County's bankruptcy, calling for a financial audit of Capizzi's office and suggesting that his relentless pursuit of the cases is politically motivated.

Noting that "the district attorney has intimated that he may not have time to proceed [with the case] against me," Chairman Roger R. Stanton called for Capizzi to drop the civil misconduct case against Supervisor William G. Steiner, as well as the criminal charges against ex-Budget Director Ronald S. Rubino.

"It's time to stop the bleeding in this county, and it's time to make the healing process complete," Stanton said. "I would like to think that our district attorney would now have the good judgment to put [these cases] to rest . . . without the further waste of taxpayer dollars."

Stanton's comments come less than a week after the first criminal trial related to the bankruptcy ended in a mistrial, with jurors deadlocked 9 to 3 in favor of acquitting Rubino on the two felony counts he faced.

Capizzi on Tuesday reiterated his intention to retry Rubino and insisted that his actions in all of the cases have been motivated solely by a desire to see justice done.

Of Stanton's charges that public funds were being squandered to enhance his political prospects, Capizzi said: "You have to consider the source and the circumstance in which they were made.

"I think it's unfortunate that this comes up in the context of two board members who are facing accusations," he added. "The debate would better take place in a situation where there isn't that self-interest. I don't think this is the proper time to debate this."

Capizzi also dismissed Stanton's call for a financial audit to determine how much money his office has spent pursuing the bankruptcy cases.

"I think a good deal of [budget oversight] is already taking place," Capizzi said, adding that County Chief Executive Officer Jan Mittermeier's office already conducts extensive reviews of his office budget. He said he could not estimate how much his office has spent on its 21-month bankruptcy probe.

Stanton's impassioned appeal was made during Tuesday's regular board meeting, at which the supervisors were being asked to consider appropriating yet more money to pay defense attorneys representing accused officials.

The board has already allocated $1.3 million to defend the four officials. On Tuesday, Auditor-Controller Steve E. Lewis, who also faces civil misconduct charges, asked that his defense cap be increased from $300,000 to $500,000, but the board delayed action for at least a week. Steiner and Rubino also indicated that they will soon request additional funds.

Stanton's proposal for a financial audit garnered support from Supervisor Don Saltarelli, who said he would like to compare the costs of the bankruptcy prosecutions to the amounts spent prosecuting murders and other types of cases.

"We owe it to ourselves and to the taxpayers to learn the costs of these prosecutions," Saltarelli said. "There is no question that the D.A. has the right to prosecute cases. But the Board of Supervisors has general supervisory authority over the [D.A.'s] office. We have a responsibility to examine these issues."

Added Steiner: "I think there needs to be accountability for spending public funds [to prosecute] . . . noncriminal conduct."

Supervisor Marian Bergeson agreed with Saltarelli that the board should make sure that the district attorney is spending public funds wisely.

But she said she could not support actions that would "detract from the basic [prosecutorial] responsibilities that are constitutionally vested with the district attorney."

Whatever the outcome, Bergeson expressed the hope that the county would soon be able to put the bankruptcy prosecutions behind it.

"This is a continuing cloud that really impacts the ability of the board to address critical issues," she said. "The longer it drags on, the more detrimental it is to the county."

Stanton's statements came as a surprise to most board colleagues and left people attending the board meeting spellbound.

In addition to the financial audit, Stanton asked that the county counsel review the feasibility of creating a "blue ribbon commission" that would examine the process by which the district attorney's office decides which cases to take before the grand jury, as well as its relationship with that quasi-judicial panel of 18 citizens, who are empowered to file formal charges.

Stanton also suggested that the county invite the state attorney general's office "to look into any questions of prosecutorial misconduct . . . including expenditures for 'political' purposes."

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