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ORANGE COUNTY PERSPECTIVE

Rackauckas Falls Short

October 06, 2002

Bill Lockyer must be so tired of Orange County and its district attorney.

Four times, the state attorney general has been called on to intervene in one allegation or another involving the county's top prosecutor, Tony Rackauckas.

Lockyer's office looked into accusations that the D.A. had used public employees to help run his humbly named Tony Rackauckas Foundation, a charity set up to help troubled youth. The state found the charity was mismanaging its money and Rackauckas agreed to close it, forestalling further investigation.

Next, Rackauckas accused two deputies of stealing files to investigate one of his political supporters. Lockyer declined to file charges.

Then the Orange County Grand Jury asked for help investigating Rackauckas' office. That collaboration led to a grand jury report that gave in great detail a picture of a district attorney exceptionally drawn to making and keeping political friends and looking after his own interests. There's the time that job applicants whom Rackauckas wanted to hire fell short in the screening process. Rackauckas changed the process and went on to hire family members of his supporters. "Deputy district attorneys should be hired on merit alone," the report concludes. That doesn't seem too much to ask.

There was the public-employee time spent looking into whether Rackauckas' grown son was misbehaving in another county, or whether police had legally towed a car owned by the son of the D.A.'s investigative chief. You would think a history like this would lead to quick change. Rackauckas' only reaction was to fire back with an even thicker report saying that his detractors had fooled the grand jury. The county Board of Supervisors, short on conspicuous bravery, sent the report to another agency. Guess where.

Lockyer quickly disposed of the report by announcing that there was nothing to charge Rackauckas with criminally. Still, the attorney general had a few choice words, saying that Rackauckas was sadly refusing to fix or even admit his many management mistakes. He likened Rackauckas to judges who were "used to being kings of the courtroom."

Rackauckas just as quickly showed what he thought of the attorney general's criticisms. Displaying an extraordinary lack of regard for taxpayer money, he changed policy to allow funds allocated for witness protection and other vital investigation costs to be used for the purchase of food and alcohol to entertain politicians and lobbyists.

Rackauckas has fallen far short of the integrity and professionalism that the job demands. The California District Attorneys Assn. handbook says prosecutors must be held to higher standards of candor and impartiality than most public officials. But who will hold Rackauckas to that standard?

The Board of Supervisors could have censured Rackauckas, but it cannot change the way he runs his office. The D.A. is an elected official. His only boss is the voting public. Earlier this year, the voters kept him in office. At that point they had no grand jury report laden with fault-finding, no attorney general criticizing the imperial way the office is run. But as Rackauckas tries to work his way up the political ladder, his opponents--and the voters--will be armed with more information.

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