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D.A. Admits First Term Was Flawed

After being sworn in a second time, O.C.'s Rackauckas says he's learned from the controversies over alleged favoritism.

January 17, 2003|Christine Hanley | Times Staff Writer

Dogged by allegations of misconduct and mismanagement in his first term, Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas acknowledged Thursday that he has made mistakes but said he is already trying to fix them.

"My first term wasn't mistake-free or error-free," Rackauckas said during an interview shortly after he was sworn in for his second term.

"Naturally, there are things that I look back on that I might do differently. But I like to move forward," he said. "I'm not going to dwell on the past. But whatever the lessons are from the past, then I'll try to dwell on those."

Rackauckas' comments, among the few he's made publicly since an Orange County Grand Jury report accused him of improperly helping political contributors, came as he laid out goals for the next four years, including pushing for tougher laws against possession of child pornography.

The grand jury said, among other things, that Rackauckas intervened on behalf of several political contributors in cases before his office, including businessman Patrick Di Carlo and developer George Argyros. Several prosecutors and investigators have also accused him of favoritism.

State Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer, whose office helped the grand jury produce the report, has criticized Rackauckas for his actions.

The district attorney continued to deny any wrongdoing, maintaining that the grand jury was unduly influenced by his political enemies. But he said he has learned from the controversy.

He said he needs to try harder to avoid situations that present an appearance of a conflict of interest. He also said he needs to be more open with his staff about such issues.

Rackauckas said he gives a lot of thought to whether he should have handled the Di Carlo and Argyros cases differently. He maintains that neither got favorable treatment, but he said there were communication breakdowns with his staff.

"As far as having more communication with various different members of the office, I might have handled that sort of thing differently," he said. "We learned a good deal during this term about personnel and handling personnel issues."

Though Lockyer said his investigation of Rackauckas is complete, both the attorney general and county auditor are looking into whether a top aide misspent funds. And Rackauckas is being sued by several fired or transferred employees.

Rackauckas said that the various investigations and lawsuits have been a distraction for him but that their overall impact on office priorities has been minimal.

One Rackauckas critic said he'll be waiting to see if Rackauckas' second term turns out different from the first.

"I wish him the best of luck. But it sounds like too little, too late," said Chris Evans, a former prosecutor.

"It's been a disastrous four years. We'll see what happens."

Looking ahead, Rackauckas said a top priority is the prosecution of the Lake Elsinore man accused of killing 5-year-old Samantha Runnion in July.

He also said he would introduce legislation that would make it a felony to possess child pornography. Currently, a first offense can either be a misdemeanor or a felony.

At Thursday's ceremony, the district attorney received a standing ovation when he urged investigators and prosecutors to "give no quarter" to anyone involved in gang-related crimes.

His biggest challenge, he said, will be overcoming a significant budget shortfall. Already, he said, the office is down 12 deputy prosecutors and 17 investigators.

"It makes the job harder because the fact that those people left doesn't mean they didn't have a lot of work to do. So other people have to carry the load."

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