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State Probe Clears O.C. Prosecutor

September 28, 2002|JEAN O. PASCO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer has ended a probe into allegations that Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas engaged in political favoritism, intervened in criminal cases involving campaign contributors and misused public resources.

Lockyer's action closes the books on the Rackauckas case and comes the same week the Board of Supervisors decided to take no action against the district attorney.

"We looked into whether there were criminal deeds, and we found none," Lockyer said in an interview late Thursday. "Our job is basically completed."

The attorney general, however, offered some parting criticisms--and advice--to Rackauckas. Lockyer said the district attorney made some "bad management decisions" and that his office is beset with morale problems.

"He suffers from a problem I've seen with judges who were used to being kings of the courtroom--they aren't good team-builders," Lockyer said in an interview during a fund-raising reception in Anaheim. "The smartest thing a politician can do is admit mistakes and move on. It's too bad that hasn't happened."

Rackauckas said he was gratified by the decision and said he hopes his staff can now move on.

"We are pleased that the attorney general is confirming this matter is over and there is no evidence to support any criminal misconduct," he said.

Lockyer's office assisted the Orange County Grand Jury in its eight-month investigation of Rackauckas, which produced a report accusing him of helping campaign contributors in three cases being handled by his office, hiring politically connected job applicants over better-qualified candidates and using public resources for personal business.

Rackauckas has strongly denied any wrongdoing, saying the grand jury performed an incomplete investigation and was swayed by the testimony of his political enemies.

Despite the accusations, Rackauckas has suffered little apparent fallout from the grand jury report. The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday considered the report but decided not to censure or even criticize him. Instead, it voted to defer to the results of Lockyer's investigation.

The supervisors said they couldn't punish Rackauckas or order changes in his office because he is an elected official.

Supervisor Todd Spitzer said he was happy with Lockyer's pronouncement. Scrutinizing a fellow officeholder was awkward, he said, because board members--many of them friends of Rackauckas--couldn't independently judge the veracity of the allegations.

"It was the attorney general's responsibility to make the call," Spitzer said. "This has been a very unfortunate distraction that has cast the district attorney's office and the D.A. in a bad light, some of it his own making."

Rackauckas critics were disappointed in Lockyer's decision.

"I would be very surprised and extremely disappointed if this should turn out to be the attorney general's final pronouncement," said Devallis Rutledge, who resigned two years ago as Rackauckas' chief assistant.

The grand jury accused Rackauckas of acting with an "appearance of impropriety" but stopped short of accusing him of criminal wrongdoing. One recommendation was that Rackauckas be barred from hiring decisions--something supervisors and Lockyer said they had no authority to do.

Mishandled cases, said the grand jury, included one in which charges against a domestic violence suspect were dismissed and one in which an auto burglary suspect's 16 felony charges were reduced to one misdemeanor. In each case, the report said, Rackauckas intervened after he was contacted by a campaign contributor.

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