By David M. Greenwald
It was just 2018 when Todd Spitzer, promising reform and to crack down on multiple scandals in the previous DA’s office, defeated the incumbent DA Tony Rackaukas with support from progressives. But those promises have gone unfulfilled, critics charge, and his office faces an array of complaints—and a new candidate has emerged, former Marine Prosecutor Pete Hardin—to challenge Spitzer.
At his announcement on Tuesday, Hardin, a career prosecutor having worked as a Judge Advocate in the Marines, a federal prosecutor and a line prosecutor in Orange County, dropped the gloves from the start and went on the attack early and often.
“Our current district attorney provides us showmanship not leadership,” he said. “He’s a career politician and he’s been honing his skills in power grabbing, manipulation, and self-promotion ever since his first election over a quarter century ago.”
Hardin attempted to contrast himself.
“His pursuit of the headline has been at the cost of the pursuit of justice,” he said.
District attorneys prosecute the majority of the cases in our country. They are accountable to no one except the voters.
“It is imperative that the District Attorney be a model of moral rectitude, a thoughtful and discerning gatekeeper in our community, ensuring that cases are prosecuted and convictions reached with integrity in a way that inspires trust and confidence,” he said. “Unfortunately what we have instead is a district attorney who leverages the tremendous power of his office merely for his own personal and political gain.”
On the issues, Hardin clearly situated himself in the progressive camp—opposing bail and arguing against the death penalty.
“It’s time to turn the page, Orange County needs a new day, new leadership,” Hardin said. “I know that being a guardian of justice means doing the right thing all the time, no matter how difficult it might be.
“Across America, we are facing a national reckoning with an outdated and ineffective criminal justice system,” Hardin said. “We have turned to prisons and punishment and turned our back on rehabilitation and support and redemption.
“In perpetuating a broken system that leads to mass incarceration, we waste billions in taxpayer dollars and siphon funds away from things we know reduce crime—strong public school education, after school programs and supervision, mental health service, drug and alcohol counseling,” Hardin continued. “We punish people time and again for minor non-violent offenses, this doesn’t fix the underlying issues… it backfires, and when it backfires it eliminates housing and employment opportunities, creating a cycle that leads from the streets to the prison and right back out on the street.
“This broken door criminal justice system leaves broken people, families, and communities in its path,” he said. “That in turn drives crime and homelessness in our communities.”
He vowed if elected to embrace 21st century modern policies to create a more equitable and fair system for all.
“Cash bail is both unnecessary and unfair,” he said. “It allows wealthy dangerous defendants to buy their freedom, while less affluent defendants who pose no risk to public safety are forced to languish behind bars.
“If elected I will work to end cash bail,” he said.
“The death penalty has never been shown to deter crime, its wildly expensive and it drags victims through decades of appeal that revictimizes survivors of crime,” he said noting the state’s moratorium on the death penalty. “If I’m elected I will no longer seek the death penalty, I will seek life without parole.
“If elected, I will end the prosecution of children as adults,” he said. “It’s an unfortunate reality that Orange County transfers more kids to adult court than any other county in California.
“Too many kids are spending their formative years behind bars,” he said, noting their tremendous potential to change. He said we must emphasize support and rehabilitation over incarceration for children.
On sentencing enhancements, he drew a distinction between himself and George Gascón, “I believe in some circumstances sentencing enhancements can create prison terms that are too long” but he said, “I don’t believe in blanket policies. I believe that blanket policies are in part what got us into trouble where we are today.”
He promised to provide “leadership not showmanship” and “results not scandals.”
It was Paul Wilson, whose wife was among those who lost her life in the Seal Beach massacre, that delivered the first blows.
Wilson said that he believes that some crimes are so bad that a person who does them should never be released, however, “years of watching the cheating and corruption of the Orange County DA, I learned the death penalty does not work for victims,” he said.
Wilson explained that when his wife was killed in the hair salon at Seal Beach, “no one wanted the death penalty more than I did. The Orange County prosecutors assured me that nothing would get in that way. For the next six years they watched a slam dunk case unravel as the public defender who represented my wife’s killer, presented a never-ending stream of lies by the prosecutors and law enforcement.”
The behavior of the prosecutors was so bad that the entire district attorney’s office was removed from the case,” he said. “The only time a DA’s office has been recused from a capital punishment case in the history of California.”
The death penalty was dismissed, but Wilson said, by that point, “I became convinced that the death penalty does not serve the best interest of victims.”
Paul Wilson said that, after years of pain, he viewed Todd Spitzer as a potential savior, as he ran a campaign to remove the district attorney.
“He assured me that his word was solid and it was built to last,” he said. “When he won, I thought victims and the criminal justice system had won as well. I wanted nothing more (than) for him to keep his promises.”
“It was all a con game,” he said. “He played it from day one.
“Todd Spitzer was more concerned about winning over prosecutors that he had criticized on the campaign trail than doing what was right,” he said. “Everyone and everything at the Orange County DA’s office stayed the same.”
He related the story of the retirement of the two prosecutors in his wife’s case, and Spitzer honored them and said they were owed an apology.
Said Wilson, “Mr. Spitzer is a fraud. He will say whatever he needs to say in the moment to help Todd Spitzer.
“Todd Spitzer does not care about any cause, and he certainly does not care about any person other than Todd Spitzer,” he said.
Christine Richters served as executive aid from 2013 to 2016. Personal experiences. Harassment bullying, and retaliation under Tood Spitzer’s watch.
“Many people in the public do not know this, but there are currently seven separate legal actions pending against the county, which have been filed by people who used to work for Todd Spitzer,” Richters said. These include charges of sexual harassment, defamation and retaliation. “A young woman wanted to report harassment by her supervisor and Todd Spitzer wanted to punish her for it.
“Not because the sexual harassment wasn’t real, not because the sexual harassment wasn’t bad, but because reporting it made Todd Spitzer look bad,” she explained. “Anyone who wants to hurt Todd Spitzer’s public image, no matter how badly they have been wronged, needs to look out.
“How many millions of dollars will these lawsuits cost the county?” she asked.
Hardin didn’t mince words either.
Hardin said that this district attorney is the first in the country “to be kicked off a trial for his gross mistreatment of sexual assault survivors.” He said “the district attorney is supposed to protect the rights of victims not demonize them.”
Hardin added that as a result of “willful blindness, it is no surprise that he faces no less than four lawsuits for sexual harassment.
“The scandals (and) lawsuits, they don’t end there,” he said. “The district attorney faces a lawsuit for coverups, and pay for play corruption that undermines the integrity of Orange County Government.”
He said the Orange County DA’s office “is the only one in the entire country to be under investigation by the United States Department of Justice.
“From the lawsuits to his ancient approach to criminal justice, this district attorney is costing our county millions of dollars,” Hardin continued.
“Todd Spitzer is a walking scandal and unfit leader,” he said.
For his part, Todd Spitzer immediately went negative as well.
In a tweet on Tuesday afternoon, he said, “Glad my unknown Gascon wanabe (sic) opponent showed his true colors today. Sorry Peter… tell your buddy George won’t happen here in the OC #nopeterhardin #peterhardin #georgegascon.”
During his comments, Hardin said on Tuesday, “My opponent thinks he’s running against the LA DA George Gascón.” He responded, “My name is Pete Hardin.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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