By David M. Greenwald
Santa Ana, CA – The past two weeks have seen a string of controversies swirling around Orange County DA Todd Spitzer. Up until now his strategy for running against Pete Hardin has been an odd one for an incumbent – he has attempted to run against Los Angeles and link his opponent to LA DA George Gascón.
In the best of times, it’s an odd strategy for an incumbent. But launching the ad last week in the midst of the swirling controversy seemed almost surreal.
The Orange County Register’s Editorial picked up on this.
“Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer has been blasting the Los Angeles County DA’s office, as epitomized by his recent “Gotham” ad depicting L.A. as a crime-ridden hell-scape. Spitzer is portraying a likely opponent in the June primary as a soft-on-crime clone of that county’s prosecutor, George Gascón,” they wrote.
They add, “There’s much to criticize in Gascón’s handling of his job, and we’ll hash out the key policy issues in the coming months, but we’d suggest that Spitzer spend more time tending to affairs within his own Orange County department.”
That’s a point I made last week and even before. The intensity of revelations has picked up in the last two weeks since he fired Prosecutor Ebrahim Baytieh. But, even before then we knew about the informant scandal, the evidence scandal and sexual harassment allegations in his department.
Perhaps the most publicized is the flap with Ebrahim Baytieh, who has claimed “Spitzer inquired about the race of the defendant’s previous girlfriends and said some Black men enhance their status by dating white women, although there’s disagreement about the exact wording.”
Baytieh believes this should have been disclosed to the defense team and ultimately it led to the DA’s office seeking LWOP rather than the death penalty.
Spitzer, who had fired Baytieh over allegations that he withheld evidence in a 2010 murder case, claims in a statement: “This was an act of pure desperation by a prosecutor who knew had been caught with his hand in the cookie jar.”
However some believe that Baytieh was fired for being a whistleblower.
My own view is that Baytieh should have been fired over his mishandling and lying about evidence in the 2010 case, but if this is a whistleblower retaliation issue, that raises the stakes.
Writes the Register, “We could have shrugged this off as a bizarre political dispute had the DA’s office (under Spitzer and his predecessor) not been the center of myriad other scandals.”
They continue, “We’re most concerned about the office’s diligence in handling the reported misuse of jailhouse snitches to secure confessions, something that has disturbing constitutional implications.”
They note, “This editorial board endorsed Spitzer over Tony Rackauckas in 2018, but he needs to get his house in order right now and spend less time worrying about Los Angeles.”
The real problem is that they keep piling up. When you see a scandal and it is mostly contained at a single issue, people tend to survive them. When the shoes keep dropping that’s another matter.
A new bar complaint has been filed with the California State Bar alleging Spitzer violated his ethical duties by improperly releasing the findings of an investigation allegedly to protect his own political interests.
The investigation centered around Gary LoGalbo, long time friend who was hired and elevated by Spitzer and then allegedly harassed four female attorneys under his supervision.
The Bar complaint also alleges that Spitzer was “not credible” when he denied retaliating against Logalbo’s victims.
According to the complaint, “Todd Spitzer retaliated against an employee for reporting sexual harassment committed by Gary LoGalbo, whom Spitzer promoted into senior leadership. Spitzer asked the victim’s supervisor to include an “untruthfulness” allegation in her performance review and then falsely denied that he did so…”
He allegedly “deflected blame for his retaliation and deceit by improperly revealing confidential personnel information about a victim of sexual harassment…”
Finally, he allegedly “flagrantly” “violated County rules and engaged in “abusive conduct” toward employees and victims of sexual harassment by widely disseminating confidential details of an investigation into LoGalbo’s misconduct.”
“The State Bar exists to protect the public, and they must act to hold Todd Spitzer accountable for abusing his authority and revictimizing multiple survivors of egregious sexual harassment,” said Hardin. “Spitzer committed obstruction of justice when he lied to investigators, committed prosecutorial misconduct when he attempted to cover up his racist remarks, and broke laws governing the release of personnel information. Todd Spitzer consistently prioritizes political expediency over his ethical obligations, and that has come at the expense of community safety and the integrity of our criminal justice system.”
The allegation against LoGalbo are serious with multiple graphic and inappropriate sexually based comments to female subordinates in the office.
At least eight DA’s that had previously been supporters of Spitzer have pulled out.
On Thursday, the National Urban Leage became the latest organization to call for Spitzer’s resignation “in the wake of revelations that Spitzer discussed a defendant’s race in the application of the death penalty and went to extreme lengths to conceal his comments.”
“Spitzer’s comments are evidence not only of his own entrenched belief in a racial hierarchy, but the implicit bias that pervades the criminal justice system at every level,” Urban League CEO Marc Morial said.
He added, “Not only did Spitzer explicitly raise racial considerations in violation of the law and human decency, he compounded his transgression by withholding his comments from defense attorneys and firing the prosecutor who tried to follow the law. He has lost the trust of those he is sworn to serve and must step down.”
The National Urban League has long called for an end to the death penalty, which is disproportionately applied to defendants of color and in cases where the victim is white.
“This is clear evidence of what we have known to be true, that racial considerations factor into almost every aspect of the criminal justice system,” CEO Michael A. Lawson said, “just as racially-motivated police violence existed before cell-phone cameras exposed it.”
Given all of this, it seems inappropriate for Spitzer to continue to run against Los Angeles and ignore his own office’s problems.