After being sworn into office Monday, Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer outlined an ambitious agenda that will include a prosecutor assigned to homeless issues and a revamping of the way the office approaches juvenile crimes.
Spitzer offered “kudos” to his predecessor Tony Rackauckas, who he defeated in November, for starting an anti-gang program for children in the county.
Spitzer said he wanted to do more in how his office approaches the problem of juvenile crime. He said wanted to do away with charging juveniles as adults and he will reassign some of the office’s “most experienced prosecutors” to the division.
“We’re going to invest in our kids,” Spitzer told a large crowd of attorneys and other civic leaders at his swearing-in ceremony at Chapman University.
Spitzer noted that the focus has been the “conviction rate” of prosecutors, but he wishes to expand the scope of a district attorney’s mission.
“What about the recidivism rate?” Spitzer said. “What about the satisfaction of the victims.”
Referring to his years as a prosecutor in the 1990s, he said, “I grew up in an office where I was judged by my conviction rate… But we’re moving to a new model called the `whole prosecutor.’ ”
Spitzer said he would work more closely with the Public Defender’s Office on recidivism because they “have excellent rapport with their clients and they will listen” to their attorneys.
Spitzer, who was instrumental in helping pass victims’ rights legislation — called Marsy’s Law, said he will implement reforms so prosecutors are more aware of victims and their wishes. He said he would create a “crime victim ombudsman” in the office.
“We’re not going to make mistakes when it comes to crime victims,” Spitzer said, an apparent reference to a plea bargain involving a defendant who struck a Cal State Fullerton student, severely injuring her, that was jeopardized when the victims said they were not consulted.
Spitzer, who was required to resign as a member of the Orange County Board of Supervisors to become district, praised his fellow former board members for their work on tackling homeless issues in the county.
“But we’re not stopping,” he said, adding he would assign a deputy district attorney to work on issues related to homelessness.
Spitzer did not shy away from the scandals that rocked the District Attorney’s Office, including a judge kicking Rackauckas’ office off the case against Scott Dekraai, the worst mass killer in the county’s history, because of allegations of outrageous governmental misconduct. He referred to a federal Justice Department’s inquiry into the issues related to the so-called snitch scandal as well as an ACLU lawsuit.
“But we’ll get past it… because Orange County has the best prosecutors in the world,” he said.
“We are not a political law firm,” Spitzer said of the office. “We’re not a public relations law firm… We are a do justice at all times law firm.”
Spitzer advised prosecutors to not be afraid to dispose of a case “if you think it’s the right thing to do.”
He vowed he would “give (prosecutors) every single thing you need to be the most honest, ethical person you can be.”
Spitzer also said prosecutors must be mindful, especially with a new law that exposes them to a felony if they illegally withhold evidence from defense attorneys, of overseeing their law enforcement partners. In the Dekraai hearings prosecutors complained they were often surprised by revelations from sheriff’s officials about the use of snitches in ways that the defendant’s attorney claimed were unconstitutional.
“I will not put our deputies in harm’s way,” Spitzer said. “We can’t just be advocates. We’re ministers of justice.”
Spitzer also stressed the importance of tackling crime and that it doesn’t matter what the statistics show if the public feels insecure.
Spitzer asked his chief of investigators, Paul Walters, to put together a task force to focus on crime stemming from the state law to reduce prison overcrowding. Spitzer wants his investigators to work closely with probation officials and they will “target the hot spots (of crime) in Orange County.