Tony Rackauckas

Orange County Dist. Atty Tony Rackauckas created a special committee in July amid mounting criticism about the use of jailhouse informants by his office. (Los Angeles Times)

Matt Hamilton and James Queally
December 4, 2015

A “failure of leadership” at the Orange County district attorney’s office led to repeated problems with the handling of jailhouse informants and helped erode confidence in criminal cases that rely on their testimony, according to a report made public Monday.

The findings, presented by legal experts on a special committee established by Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas, described the office as functioning “as a ship without a rudder” and faulted some of its prosecutors for adopting a “win-at-all-costs mentality.”

The committee called on the office to improve oversight of cases and promote prosecutors who place justice ahead of legal victories.

Within the office, there is a “palpable hesitation” to bring negative information to Rackauckas, who was unaware of “many of the problematic issues that led to the jailhouse informant controversy,” the report said. The report also highlighted problems in the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, where the committee concluded that deputies in some jail units lacked training on state and federal laws about using inmate informants.

The panel’s findings come amid an ever-widening scandal in which prosecutors and law enforcement officers have been accused of misusing inmate informants and failing to disclose key evidence to defendants.

Last year, a judge disqualified the district attorney’s office from the case of a man who fatally shot eight people at a Seal Beach salon in 2011.

The committee noted that it did not have the power to subpoena records or to compel witnesses to testify under oath. Rackauckas, the committee said, should seek an inquiry “to demonstrate transparency and foster confidence in the Orange County criminal justice system.”

During a news conference Monday in Santa Ana, Rackauckas oscillated between contrite and dismissive as he responded to the report, promising to accept many of the committee’s findings while also seeming to downplay the scope of the informant scandal.

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