Orange County supervisors Tuesday put off paying the final bill to a law firm that made recommendations stemming from the so-called jailhouse snitch scandal that derailed the capital punishment prosecution of the worst mass killer in Orange County history.
Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer, who was elected last month Orange County District Attorney, raised concerns about a possible conflict of interest in the case because Stephen Larson’s firm also represented a now-defunct firm involved in an attempt to dig up dirt on former Costa Mesa City Councilmen Jim Righeimer and Steve Mensinger.
The Board of Supervisors approved a contract with Larson’s firm in August 2016 to assist in and monitor the implementation of recommendations made by the Informant Policies and Practices Evaluation Committee that District Attorney Tony Rackauckas formed in the wake of the snitch scandal that led to Rackauckas’ office being kicked off the prosecution of Scott Dekraai and ultimately led an Orange County Superior Court judge to remove the death penalty as an option for Dekraai, who pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the mass killing in and outside a Seal Beach beauty salon.
The scandal involved the misuse of informants in the jail that Dekraai’s attorneys and others alleged violated the constitutional rights of inmates.
The contract was for two years to cost the county $300,000, but the firm asked for an additional $4,020. A final report from the firm was released in August. The firm’s main recommendation mirrored the committee’s suggestion that Rackauckas should not have a chief of staff position, which was said to cause confusion among prosecutors, many of whom did not report to the chief of staff Susan Schroeder, who managed the District Attorney’s Office’s media office.
Spitzer, who voted against the contract in 2016, said at Tuesday’s meeting that supervisors were not made aware that Larson’s firm represented the now defunct Lackie, Dammeier, McGill and Ethir law firm as well as its investigators Christopher Joseph Lanzillo and Scott Impola in a civil suit filed by Righeimer and Mensinger. Rackauckas at the time was prosecuting Lanzillo and Impola.
The lawsuit was settled for $600,000 in July. Impola, who died at the age of 49 in July 2017, had charges dismissed, but Lanzillo pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a year in jail. They made a false report to police to set up Righeimer for a phony DUI and placed a GPS device on Mensinger’s car to monitor his movements.
After the settlement, Larson said the payment to Righeimer, his wife and Mensinger did not represent any acknowledgement of guilt.
Larson said the settlement was reached to “bring an end to the absurd political theater that has characterized this case and its baseless allegations from the beginning.”
“We hired the attorney representing Mr. Lanzillo, who we were prosecuting,” Spitzer said.
A call came in to the county’s fraud hot line asking why Larson did not disclose his representation of Lanzillo and the Lackie law firm, Spitzer said.
“Mr. Larson had a duty to disclose a potential conflict of interest before we voted on the contract,” Spitzer said. “I believe the board had a right to know.”
Board of Supervisors Chairman Andrew Do said it is not clear there was an actual conflict of interest, but said that question must be answered first before the board moves forward on paying the remainder of the bill.
The board will reconsider the bill at its Jan. 29 meeting. By that time, Spitzer will be the district attorney.
A message left with Larson was not immediately returned.
>> Want to read more stories like this? Get our Free Daily Newsletters Here!Follow us: