It feels like the Orange County Snitch Scandal has been going on for years without real accountability. The only concrete actions the public has seen anybody with a position of authority take against the prosecutors were Judge Goethals’s groundbreaking decisions to disqualify the DA’s office from the Scott Dekraai case and to preclude the prosecution from seeking the death penalty against him. Aside from that, former OCDA Tony Rackauckas (who was reelected in 2014 in the midst of the initial revelations about the Snitch Scandal) finally lost his position when Todd Spitzer defeated him in the 2018 election. Given the magnitude of the scandal, how is it possible that so little reform has happened? It has been well over two years since the U.S. Department of Justice announced it would investigate the Orange County law enforcement agencies. And, didn’t the California Attorney General’s office (under then AG Kamala Harris) also plan to investigate the OCDA?
Well, in terms of accountability, there is not much news. But, in terms of impunity, there’s a lot to say. Last week, the OC Register reported that years ago Tony Rackauckas actually acknowledged—to the California AG, not the public—that “there was evidence of criminal wrongdoing on the part of sheriff’s deputies and one prosecutor in the county’s jailhouse informant scandal.” In sharp contrast to what he told the public, he wrote in 2016 “it is the belief of the OCDA that the content of the logs and the non-production of the logs during the previous hearings of the Dekraai case may constitute evidence of the commission of criminal wrongdoing.” Let that sink in.
In related and similarly jarring news, the California Attorney General announced in a courtroom proceeding that it had concluded its probe of the OCDA’s misconduct. The result? Literally: nothing. Scott Sanders, the persistent public defender who unearthed the scandal years ago, is worth quoting at length on this point:
“The Attorney General’s office has lost all credibility as a prosecutorial force here that can stand up to law enforcement,” Sanders told Voice of OC. “Prosecutors love holding criminal defendants accountable and they hate holding law enforcement officers accountable. And they really hate holding themselves accountable.”
He also said the probe is going to send a loud message to law enforcement.
“It’s a real affront to the criminal justice community here,” Sanders said. “When you do this, you really send a message to law enforcement loud and clear: That there’s nothing you can do where we’ll hold you accountable. In the end, it’s really worse they ever came in the first place. Because they emboldened those who would engage in corruption to stay on that path.”
The pathetic path the scandal has taken looks like it may end right where it started. Spitzer, frustrated by the vast nothingness that the Attorney General and Department of Justice have produced, decided to launch his own internal investigation. While the OCDA may have the benefit of new leadership, it is notoriously problematic for agencies responsible for misconduct to police themselves. Speaking of self-policing, where is the state bar association in all of this? Given how much time has already passed, it is safe to stop holding your breath. If any professional discipline or other reform ever comes out of this mess, it seems likely that the prosecutors responsible for misconduct or failing to punish it will be long gone—perhaps presiding as judges, sitting on a beach in retirement, or sitting in the White House. Don’t worry. We will still be here. Shouting from the rooftops, even if we are shouting into the wind.