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ORANGE COUNTY PERSPECTIVE

Continue Probe of Rackauckas

July 07, 2002

The Orange County Grand Jury didn't do voters any favors when it waited for more than three months after the March election to release its in-depth and critical report on Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas. We had urged the grand jury to make its findings public well before the election so voters would have an unbiased view of the controversy generated by Rackauckas' alleged politicization of his office.

There could be no more pressing assignment for this grand jury than getting to the bottom of criticism that friends of the county's top law enforcement officer enjoyed favored treatment during the incumbent's first term. By waiting until late June to issue its findings, the grand jury lost a golden opportunity to inform the voters who in the spring embraced the district attorney for another four-year term. Much of what the grand jury reported is not new information, and indeed was the focus of challenger Wally Wade's unsuccessful campaign challenge. But had it come out earlier, the voters would have had a chance to consider the panel's findings before casting ballots.

Rackauckas, who previously dismissed the grand jury investigation as little more than a routine audit, since has slammed the report as politically motivated. Neither description holds up. The grand jury isn't a perfect reflection of Orange County's population, but it is representative of the concerns that residents have when it comes to good, clean government. These aren't people who are carrying a grudge against the district attorney.

The seriousness of the conclusions seems to put to rest any question about whether the district attorney has conflicting allegiances in cases involving some campaign contributors. It's no longer possible to pass off the complaints as the grumbling of a few unhappy holdovers from the days of former Dist. Atty. Mike Capizzi or sour grapes left over from Wade's unsuccessful challenge.

County supervisors took a step in the right direction by hiring a law firm to investigate the grand jury's 92 findings and 42 recommendations. But state law apparently precludes supervisors from doing much of anything when it comes to policing the district attorney's office. So it's time for the state attorney general's office, which helped jurors prepare the report, to further investigate possible wrongdoing.

Despite Rackauckas' outright rejection of any wrongdoing, the grand jury report contains serious allegations that Rackauckas intervened in criminal cases at the request of political supporters, hired family members of friends over more qualified candidates and used public resources for personal business. One of the panel's most striking recommendations is to bar the district attorney from hiring decisions.

Rackauckas is probably betting that the report is a tempest in a teapot, and that voters will quickly move on to other concerns. But the newly re-elected district attorney owes the public more than his promised point-by-point refutation of the grand jury's findings. The lengthy report includes dozens of substantive findings that Rackauckas simply cannot brush aside.

The report's findings and recommendations need to be reviewed in the clear light of day. The alternative is four years of mistrust and a district attorney whose effectiveness could be diminished. The county's residents deserve better than that.

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