A committee of legal experts hand-picked by Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas in January issued a report declaring his office a “rudderless ship” and calling for a deeper investigation into the use of jailhouse informants. The five-member panel called for the Orange County Grand Jury, the state Attorney General or the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate allegations that prosecutors and police misused a covert network of jailhouse informants and withheld evidence from defense attorneys. (Photo by Joshua Sudock, Orange County Register/SCNG)
By Jordan Graham / Staff Writer
Oct. 25, 2016 – Updated 11:21 p.m.
Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas will not reinstate a top oversight position that his handpicked investigatory committee said last year could help steer the “rudderless” ship his office had become and that might have helped to prevent its ongoing jailhouse informant controversy.
Patrick Dixon, a retired Los Angeles County prosecutor who served on Rackauckas’ committee last year, criticized the district attorney’s decision at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting.
“The D.A. really needs a chief operating officer to watch over the day-to-day operations in their office,” Dixon said. “We felt many of the problems that you have seen in the press – the jailhouse informant problem, for example – could have been corrected if there was the right kind of leadership.”
Susan Kang Schroeder, chief of staff at the District Attorney’s Office, said Rackauckas prefers to communicate directly with the four senior assistant district attorneys who head his prosecutorial divisions rather than adding a bureaucratic buffer. She framed the issue’s emergence at Tuesday’s board meeting as a political ploy.
The recommendation to hire a chief assistant district attorney came from a committee Rackauckas assembled.
In July 2015, Rackauckas picked Dixon and four other legal experts to review his department’s use of jailhouse informants, following numerous allegations of systematic misconduct, including that police and prosecutors misused informants and withheld evidence. That has caused at least six criminal cases to unravel.
In December, that committee released a report saying the District Attorney’s Office had “serious deficiencies” in supervision, accusing some prosecutors of adopting a “win-at-all-costs mentality” and recommending 10 ways to fix it.
That included hiring a chief assistant district attorney – a position that is common in other district attorney’s offices but that has been vacant for at least six years in Orange County – to review high-profile cases and assist in day-to-day management. The report stated that some in the office hoped the role would bring more structure to how the office was managed.
Rackauckas agreed to implement most of the changes, including establishing a conviction integrity unit, hiring a chief ethics officer and revising the jailhouse informant policy. But when it came to hiring a chief assistant district attorney, he said he would “re-evaluate whether such a recommendation is advisable” after implementing the other changes.
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