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O.C.'s Top Prosecutor Orders Staff to Refuse Hearings Before New Court Commissioner

August 24, 2004|Christine Hanley and Stuart Pfeifer | Times Staff Writers

Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas has ordered his prosecutors not to try any cases before newly appointed court commissioner Christopher J. Evans, a former top deputy D.A. who quit five years ago after accusing his boss of letting politics influence the office.

The move, which court officials called unprecedented, was outlined in an e-mail that Rackauckas sent to office managers, according to prosecutors who asked not to be named out of fear of retaliation. The memo instructed attorneys to refuse hearings before Evans, who as a commissioner can act as a judge in many cases, with the consent of both sides.

"Everyone's been told. Everyone's talking about it," one prosecutor said. "Most D.A.'s think it's a bad idea, but they've got to do what they're told."

Evans, a seasoned prosecutor whose relationship with Rackauckas has veered from one of strong mutual support to bitter enmity, has been executive director of the Orange County-based Surfrider Foundation since he left the district attorney's office in 1999.

This month, an overwhelming majority of Orange County judges appointed him as one of the court's 34 commissioners. Evans will take his seat Sept. 17.

Orange County Superior Court Administrator Alan Slater, who has served in the system for 30 years, said he did not recall any other district attorney questioning an appointment by a majority of the bench. He said the court stands behind the decision of its judges.

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