Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens speaks in August. (Sam Gangwer/Staff Photographer)

By Kelly Puente and Tony Saavedra / Staff Writers
Published:  Dec. 16, 2016
Updated:     Dec. 17, 2016 – 8:57 a.m.

A judge said Friday that he might find Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens in contempt of court because of her department’s reaction to an order to produce documents in the trial of admitted killer Scott Dekraai.

In a hearing held one day after the Justice Department launched an investigation into the Sheriff’s Department and the Orange County District Attorney’s Office – following years of complaints that both agencies routinely cheat and break the law to gain convictions – Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals grew visibly frustrated by the pace of the Sheriff’s Department’s response to a discovery order he made nearly four years ago.

Goethals said “200 weeks, or 1,400 days” after he ordered disclosure of sheriff’s deputy documents, newly discovered notes and other material continue to trickle in. Last week, his court was presented with an estimated 5,600 new pages, all of which the Sheriff’s Department wants to be kept sealed from the public.

Goethals described the volume of data as a “document dump” and said he has been reading through the material himself. He ordered lawyers for the sheriff and the county to read each page and make an argument why that page should be kept secret. He gave them until Jan. 13 to respond.

Goethals noted that the latest batch of paperwork includes full-page redactions that haven’t been approved by the court, and that many of the pages don’t appear to be privileged or protected.

“This is the type of discovery response that the court has come to expect from the sheriff,” Goethals said.

Hutchens, through a spokesman, declined to comment.

Dekraai is fighting a death sentence for killing eight people and wounding another at a Seal Beach hair salon in 2011. He pleaded guilty two years ago, but the penalty phase of his trial has been marred by prosecutors and deputies’ misuse of jailhouse informants and failure to turn over evidence to the defense.

Earlier this year, the Sheriff’s Department uncovered 1,157 pages of secret logs that were kept by deputies in the day-to-day management of informants in the Orange County Jail, including at least one informant who was used by prosecutors to get a jailhouse confession from Dekraai.

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