Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas has written a letter to news organizations suggesting that the Los Angeles Times is trying to force the prosecutor to reveal what stories its competitors are working on.
A spokeswoman for The Times, however, says the district attorney is misrepresenting a request the paper has made for equal access to ordinary press releases.
The controversy comes less than a month after the prosecutor's spokeswoman said she was fired for criticizing his policies for handling the news media.
Michelle Emard, who has filed a wrongful-termination claim as a precursor to a lawsuit, said she called the prosecutor's practice of blacklisting some reporters and news outlets counterproductive and unprofessional.
Late last year Rackauckas ordered his staff not to speak to Times reporters and stopped sending press releases to the paper, citing what he calls a history of unfair coverage of his office. Following this policy, district attorney spokeswoman Susan Schroeder declined to comment for this report.
The district attorney's letter, dated June 16 and signed by Rackauckas, warns editors and broadcast news directors that The Times is formally requesting information under the state's Public Records Act. The requests "may affect your First Amendment rights under the United States and California Constitutions, as well as, your rights under the California Shield Law," he wrote. "This letter serves as your notice that you may wish to have your legal counsel give input to protect your rights before any such materials are released."
To support this contention, Rackauckas quoted a portion of a letter sent to the district attorney by Times staff writer Christine Hanley requesting copies of "Any and all written correspondence from you or any employees of the Orange County District Attorney's Office" sent to local newspapers, radio broadcasters and television stations.
On Thursday, the Los Angeles Times issued a statement charging that Rackauckas' letter misrepresents The Times' requests.
"The Times recently has been submitting Public Records Act requests to the Orange County District Attorney's Office in order to obtain the press releases that he and his office distribute to other news media, but refuse to provide to The Times," said a written statement from Martha Goldstein, Times vice president for communications.
"These requests were simply an attempt to obtain equal access to press releases issued by the Orange County District Attorney and nothing more," the statement said.
The paragraph quoted in the district attorney's letter "was included so that Mr. Rackauckas could not avoid properly responding to our requests by simply calling the press releases by another name."