10:02 PM PDT on Tuesday, August 31, 2010
By DUANE W. GANG
Riverside County supervisors ordered an investigation Tuesday into claims by district attorney-elect Paul Zellerbach that current District Attorney Rod Pacheco is hiring and promoting liberally during his last months in office, despite a $9 million budget reduction.
Zellerbach said in letter delivered to supervisors Monday that Pacheco’s alleged actions “may severely jeopardize the budget that I will assume in January.”
A top official in Pacheco’s office said the allegations in the letter are untrue, Zellerbach is overreaching as the incoming district attorney, and that the complaint letter Zellerbach sent to supervisors might have compromised his judicial ethics.
“He is not district attorney yet,” said Assistant District Attorney Kelly Keenan. “It is also disconcerting that a seated judge … wants to take control of the district attorney’s office. A judge is supposed to be a judge.”
Keenan said the district attorney’s office was not given a copy of the letter.
Pacheco did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Zellerbach said his concerns are legitimate and justified. “I am not going to stick my head in the sand and ignore what is going on in the district attorney’s office … it is ludicrous to say I should not be concerned.”
A Superior Court judge since 2000, Zellerbach resumed the bench a few weeks after he defeated Pacheco in the June 8 election.
He hears civil cases, and was in his courtroom Tuesday afternoon overseeing a trial while supervisors discussed the letter.
Zellerbach said in his letter he had learned from sources inside Pacheco’s office that Pacheco:
Will be hiring 20 attorneys and several investigators over the next few months;
Made “numerous promotions” that he said in an interview numbered as many as 45 in recent weeks; and
“Has ordered his assistant chiefs, chief deputy DAs and his chief investigator not to assist in any transition efforts over the next four months.”
Of the claims about hiring 20 lawyers, Keenan said outside board chambers, “I don’t know what he’s talking about. That’s not true.”
Zellerbach said he can’t get direct information.
“On one hand, they deny me access, and on the other hand, they say my information is inaccurate,” Zellerbach said later. “Well, give me access to get the information that is accurate.”
County Executive Officer Bill Luna will examine the complaints and report back in two weeks.
“The board has taken a very good direction with asking Mr. Luna to look into the matter,” Zellerbach said later. He said he does not plan to take part in the matter further. “What they do is up to them.”
‘LET’S GET THE REPORT’
Third District Supervisor John Benoit initially called for an emergency hearing on Tuesday afternoon but settled for Luna’s investigation when it appeared he would not get the four votes necessary to add discussion of the letter to the agenda.
The claims and counter-claims could not be independently verified Tuesday.
Benoit asked Luna to look into Zellerbach’s allegations about hiring, promotion and pay raises within the prosecutor’s office. “His concerns are legitimate but I am not sure they are actually happening. Let’s get the report,” Benoit said.
Supervisors tabled for Tuesday consideration of a transition office for Zellerbach, possibly on the third floor of the downtown Riverside building that houses the prosecutor’s office and the county counsel.
The district attorney’s tentative budget from the county is $95.9 million for all but the forensic testing division, which is separately budgeted. The office has other sources of funds, such as grants. It has more than 800 employees.
Zellerbach called for supervisors to consider imposing a moratorium on hiring or promotions in the district attorney’s office for the remainder of the year, and to assist him by assembling what Zellerbach called a transition team.
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