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Fired Aide Files Legal Claim Against D.A.

Former spokeswoman for Rackauckas says her termination violates the state's Whistleblower Act. She plans to sue if her claim is rejected.

June 05, 2003|Christine Hanley and Stuart Pfeifer | Times Staff Writers

A former spokeswoman for Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas says she was fired after she challenged orders to blacklist certain reporters and serve the prosecutor's political image rather than the public's right to know.

In a legal claim filed Wednesday against the district attorney's office -- a necessary first step to any lawsuit against a public agency -- Michelle Emard also alleges she was dismissed after she questioned why Deputy Dist. Atty. Susan Schroeder, whose husband ran Rackauckas' election campaign, was supervising the media relations office.

Emard, who said she was dismissed last week without an explanation, said in the claim that her termination was a retaliatory act that violated the state's Whistleblower Act. She has hired attorney Steven R. Pingel and plans to sue if her claim, which seeks unspecified damages, is rejected.

"I am responding to what was clearly a wrongful termination," Emard said at a news conference Wednesday in the courtyard of Orange County's Hall of Administration. "I was in essence being required to compromise my personal and professional integrity to further the political goals.... I took a stand and defended myself, and I was fired."

The district attorney's office, which has 45 days to respond to the allegations, declined to comment.

In her claim, Emard contends she was "essentially told to be a publicity flack for Rackauckas" rather than a professional representative of the prosecutor's office after she was hired in September. She also was told not to talk to reporters from the Los Angeles Times or OC Weekly as well as reporters at other newspapers who were not in favor.

Emard said she told Rackauckas she disagreed with these practices and that it was a misuse of public funds for Schroeder, a prosecutor in the district attorney's felony projects unit, to oversee the media relations office. Schroeder is married to Michael Schroeder, Rackauckas' campaign director and a former state Republican Party chairman.

Orange County Supervisor Bill Campbell said he has questions about management of the district attorney's office, including Emard's allegations. Although the Board of Supervisors does not directly control the district attorney's office, it does allocate money. Next week, Rackauckas is scheduled to ask the board to approve a $5.4-million supplement to his budget so he can avoid cutting 18 prosecutors and 17 investigators.

"If you have somebody assigned to work as a prosecutor, why is that person handling media?" Campbell said.

Emard also alleges in her claim that she was asked to perform work on county time for Newport Beach businessman Patrick Di Carlo, a friend of Rackauckas who contributed thousands of dollars to his campaign.

Emard does not elaborate on that allegation in her claim. But in an interview after she was fired, she said Rackauckas on Jan. 10 asked her to help Di Carlo by writing an obituary of retired Marine Brig. Gen. Jay Hubbard, a friend of Di Carlo. She estimates she spent about six hours over 10 days on the project.

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