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2 Battle D.A. to Regain Their Former Posts

Personnel: Lawyer says prosecutors were 'sent to Siberia for backing the wrong candidate.' Ventura County officials deny the allegation.


Two prosecutors who were reassigned after openly supporting the candidate who challenged retiring Ventura County Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury's handpicked successor are now fighting to get their old jobs back.

Mark Pachowicz and Adam Pearlman were stripped of their felony cases three weeks after the March 5 election and ordered to report to the child support enforcement division, a transfer they contend was politically motivated and an abuse of the district attorney's power.

"They don't care about a person's constitutional rights, they don't care how good you are as an attorney," Pachowicz said. "The only thing they really care about is their own political existence and power."

Pachowicz, Pearlman and Vivian Rackauckas, a third prosecutor transferred to child support, have asked the county's Civil Service Commission to intervene and plan to press their case at a hearing today.

"Experienced, highly qualified prosecutors have been emasculated and sent to Siberia for backing the wrong candidate," the prosecutors' attorney wrote in a brief to the five-member board.

But attorneys for Ventura County don't see it that way.

They contend in a written response that the commission has no jurisdiction to hear employee appeals to reassignments or transfers.

And because the lawyers were not demoted and did not suffer pay cuts, their brief states, they have no right to a hearing.

"Even if Appellants' feelings have been hurt," wrote Leroy Smith, litigation supervisor for the county counsel office, "they have suffered no cognizable wrong."

The transferred lawyers, however, believe they have been wronged, and are eager to argue their case--if they can persuade the commission to listen.

"We want to go back," Pearlman said. "It's not that difficult."

Pachowicz and Pearlman were vocal supporters of candidate Ron Bamieh--a fellow deputy district attorney--during a contentious election to replace Bradbury, who is stepping down after six consecutive terms. Chief Deputy Dist. Atty. Greg Totten, Bradbury's chosen replacement, won March 5 by a wide margin.

During an election-night interview, Bradbury said he would extend an olive branch to those who had supported Bamieh and focus on healing wounds. On March 28, Pachowicz and Pearlman were separately called into meetings with their supervisors and told they were being reassigned to the child support division. Pachowicz, an 11-year veteran of the office who spent three years building a drug-and-racketeering case against the Hells Angels and put a convicted killer on death row in 1998, said he was not given an explanation. But he was not surprised.

"They wanted to get rid of us," Pachowicz said. Some deputy district attorneys agreed.

"I expected that there would be some form of consequence for supporting someone who wasn't chosen by the district attorney," said one prosecutor who asked not to be identified. "They really went out there in the heat of the political battle and I think that led to problems for them."

As a member of the union representing prosecutors and public defenders, Pachowicz said he was involved in bringing a lawsuit against the county amid stalled contract negotiations six years ago. A settlement was later reached to give union members an across-the-board 3% pay raise.

In his brief to the commission, attorney Stephen Silver argued Pachowicz was "banished" for his support of Bamieh as well as his union activities.

Bradbury, who was out of town, could not be reached to respond to the allegation, but relayed a statement through an assistant. "It is a personnel matter that is being handled by county counsel," he said. "It would be inappropriate for me to comment."

Smith at the county counsel office also declined to comment on the issues raised by Pearlman and Pachowicz in their appeal. But in his brief to the commission, Smith said the lawyers' allegations are false.

"Appellants' true complaint is no secret," Smith wrote. "They believe that the District Attorney unlawfully retaliated against them for exercising their political right and/or engaging in union activities. The District Attorney adamantly denies this."

For Rackauckas, the third attorney requesting a hearing before the commission, the issues are different.

Also a veteran prosecutor, she was transferred to child support in April 2000 after bouncing back and forth between the unit and criminal prosecution assignments.

But when the child support division splintered from the district attorney's office on July 1 and became a separate county agency, Rackauckas and a dozen other attorneys lost the ability to handle criminal prosecutions.

Rackauckas said she now wants assurances her retirement and benefits won't be affected as a result of the reorganization created by state legislators. "I don't think anyone is retaliating against me," she said. "I just want to make sure that my rights are protected."

C. Stanley Trom, director of the child support division, said Pachowicz, Pearlman and Rackauckas are the only lawyers who have asked to return to the district attorney's office and that he is not opposed to the request.

"I wouldn't have a problem if they went back," Trom said. "They are fine attorneys."

Trom said the 13 lawyers in his now independent agency, which tracks deadbeat parents and collects $50 million in child and medical support payments annually, are not trial attorneys.

"They are like corporate counsel who give legal advice and then tend to the court-related business that we have," said Trom, who supervises 340 workers. "While three attorneys are important to us, this operation is a lot larger than just three individuals. This is a big business here."

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