Ending a bitter campaign that features accusations of ethical lapses from both sides, Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer appeared Wednesday to have unseated his former boss, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas.
With all precincts reporting, Spitzer had nearly 53 percent of the vote from Tuesday’s election, compared to 47 percent for the incumbent. The county has about 418,600 votes still to count, and Spitzer has a roughly 30,000-vote, likely insurmountable lead.
Despite the number of ballots still left to be counted, Rackauckas’ office has reached out to Spitzer to discuss the transition, Spitzer said.
“That’s a good sign,” the county supervisor said.
Spitzer acknowledged there is “a lot of anxiety” in Rackauckas’ office, but he emphasized he does not plan to do a major shakeup.
“What they need to know is they don’t need to worry,” Spitzer said of the office’s prosecutors. “The only thing I’m going to ask of them is to come to work, do your job and be happy, just do justice, do the work of the people.”
Spitzer was once considered next in line to succeed Rackauckas, who was grooming him to take over until the two had a public falling out in 2010 and Rackauckas fired him.
“I’m personally ecstatic,” Spitzer said of the election. “This has been a professional goal of mine. It’s no secret that I wanted to achieve this for over a decade and certainly there was a major hiccup when I had a falling out with Mr. Rackauckas and I had to rebuild my professional career.”
The two have traded allegations of corruption and ethical lapses ever since.
Rackauckas, who was elected in 1998, is serving his fifth term. He has been rocked by allegations of prosecutorial misconduct in recent years, most notably in the case against Scott Dekraai, the worst mass killer in the county’s history.
Rackauckas’ office was removed from the prosecution of Dekraai when a judge found outrageous governmental misconduct in the handling of jailhouse informants in Dekraai’s case. Dekraai, who pleaded guilty, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole when an Orange County Superior Court judge removed the death sentence as an option due to continued allegations of misuse of jailhouse snitches.
Now Rackauckas’ office is fighting another legal battle involving allegations of misconduct in the prosecution of Josh Waring, the son of a former “Real Housewives of Orange County” cast member. Warin is charged with attempted murder. An Orange County sheriff’s contractor has acknowledged in the Waring case that a glitch in an upgrade of software led authorities to improperly record phone calls of jail inmates to their attorneys.
Rackauckas defended his work as D.A., highlighting what he calls aggressive efforts by his office to crack down on gang members and human traffickers and pioneering advancements in the use of DNA evidence in criminal prosecutions.
Spitzer touted his career in public service, serving not just as a county supervisor and a prosecutor, but also spending time in the state Assembly and as a school teacher and school board member. He said he wants to restore “faith and trust in our law enforcement and justice system.”
Spitzer said Wednesday the ethical allegations in the Dekraai and Waring cases were not as much of a factor in the election as some observers might think.
“You would have thought those were issues the public was most concerned about,” Spitzer said.
But the “game changer” was a grand jury report last year that outlined issues with sexual harassment within the District Attorney’s Office, Spitzer claimed. The grand jury reported that there was a perception among many in the office that it was plagued with sexual harassment, favoritism and a fear of retaliation for raising concerns.
Spitzer said an increase in reported rapes in the county was also a primary concern of voters, according to his polling.
“When you combine that with sexual harassment it didn’t set well with voters,” he said.
Spitzer said the recent grand jury reports about the office as well as another report that was prepared in the wake of the Dekraai case will be used to help him make changes in the office.
“My hope and desire and belief is that we need to return the office to when I started in that office in 1990,” Spitzer said. “I want to return that office, to (the) open, honest, transparent and ethical office that I believed it was when I became a prosecutor in 1990.”