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Lockyer Critical of D.A.'s Actions

The state attorney general says Rackauckas' response to a report from the Orange County Grand Jury invites 'ridicule.'

October 23, 2002|Seema Mehta | Times Staff Writer

Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas' actions in response to a critical grand jury report have "held [his] office and all of law enforcement up to ridicule," State Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer said in a biting letter to the prosecutor.

The letter, sent last week, marks another salvo in a dispute between the state's top lawman and Orange County's top lawman.

Lockyer's office assisted the grand jury in a civil investigation that criticized Rackauckas of interfering in cases involving political supporters and punishing foes in the office, among other things.

But instead of embracing the grand jury's recommendations, Rackauckas has repeatedly criticized them, Lockyer said. The attorney general said he wants to communicate with Rackauckas about taking "more appropriate" action in response to the grand jury's concerns.

Rackauckas could not be reached for comment.

Chief Assistant Dist. Atty. Chuck Middleton said: "We received the attorney general's letter [Tuesday] afternoon. We will engage in careful review and consideration of his letter and respond in due course."

Lockyer's letter, dated Oct. 18, came in response to a request by the Board of Supervisors that he further examine the matter.

Lockyer said he was particularly concerned about one aspect of the report. The grand jury found that the district attorney office's chief investigator spent more than $4,700 set aside for witness protection and undercover investigations for food and alcohol during meetings with lawmakers, lobbyists, the media and others.

The panel recommended that Rackauckas enforce rules created by his predecessor prohibiting use of the fund for anything other than law enforcement. Instead, he initially changed the policy to allow employees to use the fund for lobbying. He then changed his mind and decided to enforce the policy.

Lockyer said his initial action "engendered mistrust of public officials."

"I commend you for making this revision, which I hope you will keep in effect throughout your administration," he added.

The issue of the lobbying funds prompted a tense debate at the Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday.

Supervisor Todd Spitzer at first refused to vote on routine grant requests from the district attorney's office, saying he had "very serious" concerns about spending by the office. He has urged Rackauckas to refund the $4,700 his office used for food and drinks.

"I'm not comfortable supporting anything until we get some answers to our questions," he said. "Otherwise, we'll keep getting blown off."

At that point in the meeting, Supervisor Jim Silva accused Spitzer of "blackmailing" the board and threatened to walk out.

Supervisor Tom Wilson repeatedly urged Spitzer to reconsider and vote. Spitzer eventually voted in favor of the measure, which otherwise would have failed because two members of the five-person board were absent.

After the meeting, Silva said: "I agree with Supervisors Spitzer and Wilson. I have concerns about how county money is spent. But I don't think you want to jeopardize funding for public safety over an $18 bottle of wine."

Middleton, of the district attorney's office, said Spitzer never contacted the office about his concerns.

"It is regrettable that Supervisor Spitzer has elected to grandstand politically while risking funding for public safety," Middleton said. "His pattern of 'ready, fire and aim' has not well served the citizens of Orange County."

Rackauckas has said the grand jury findings are the result of an incomplete investigation and were swayed by the testimony of his political enemies.

In his letter, Lockyer said Rackauckas' insistence that the grand jury investigation was motivated by politics "is simply false," and the assertion that it was influenced by his opponents "disconcerting."

Lockyer said last month that he was closing the books on the investigation into the district attorney's office and concluded that no crime occurred.

As attorney general, Lockyer has limited supervisory power over local prosecutors.

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