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O.C. Board Seeks Probe of D.A.'s Office

Government: After Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas challenges supervisors' authority to act on grand jury allegations, they vote for an outside review.

June 29, 2002|MONTE MORIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Orange County Board of Supervisors voted Friday to hire a private law firm to examine accusations of cronyism and mismanagement leveled by the grand jury against Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas.

Supervisors had originally intended to review the grand jury report, weighing in on each of its 92 findings and 42 recommendations. Minutes before the meeting, however, Rackauckas challenged the board's authority to act on the report.

In a letter faxed to board members, Rackauckas cited the state penal code, which appears to limit the board's purview to those matters it holds budgetary responsibility for--a very small portion of the prosecutor's operation.

"Our office's initial review of the grand jury report has concluded that only a few of the findings and recommendations fall within the area applicable to the Board of Supervisors," Rackauckas wrote.

Supervisor Todd Spitzer, however, demanded a full review, saying to do otherwise could expose the board to liability.

In a written statement, Spitzer said the board had a "legal obligation and a duty to respond to each and every finding and recommendation in the report."

A slate of law firms without ties to the district attorney's office must be presented to the board by July 16. Supervisors will then decide the scope of the inquiry.

The supervisors received the 128-page document Tuesday and immediately called the special meeting.

The document accuses Rackauckas of intervening in criminal cases at the request of political supporters, hiring family members of friends over more qualified candidates and using public resources for personal business. One of the panel's recommendations is to bar the district attorney from hiring decisions.

Rackauckas strongly disputes many characterizations in the report and promised a lengthy response in the next three months. He said the report is filled with untrue assertions by longtime political enemies.

Those expecting fireworks at the Friday hearing went away disappointed. The district attorney didn't attend, and no one on the board directly addressed the charges Friday.

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