Former Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas prevailed Wednesday in a federal lawsuit that alleged he retaliated against a former prosecutor in his office for running for Orange County Superior Court against one of his friends.
After an hour of deliberations, a panel of eight jurors in a Santa Ana courtroom found that Rackauckas caused an “adverse employment action” against Karen Schatzle, who later retired from her job as a prosecutor with the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.
But the jurors did not find that the reason for that negative employment action was because Schatzle ran and failed to replace Orange County Superior Court Judge Scott Steiner in 2016.
“It’s an inconsistent verdict,” Schatzle’s attorney, Joel Baruch, said. “It wasn’t based on her performance, so what was it?”
Baruch contended there was no evidence presented for Schatzle receiving an undesirable post beyond the retaliation for running for judge against the wishes of her boss.
Rackauckas was the lone defendant in the case after the county and others were dismissed prior to trial.
“I’m just very relieved by the verdict,” Rackauckas said. “During the trial I was very concerned because the threshold in a civil case like this, I think, is very low, so I’m grateful and thankful to the jury for seeing the evidence the right way and reaching the right verdict.”
Rackauckas’ attorney, Norm Watkins, said he directed his staff that there be no change in Schatlze’s status or pay as she ran against Steiner, who was a political supporter of Rackauckas’.
Baruch said he would file a motion for a new trial with U.S. District Judge Andrew Guilford.
In closing arguments, Baruch told jurors that Schatzle was not promoted even when there was a vacancy and was left in a post filing misdemeanors at the West Justice Center in Westminster.
“I pretty much got demoted,” she testified during the trial, Baruch said.
“I think of myself as an individual whose rights were violated,” Schatzle testified, according to Baruch.
Rackauckas was angered by Schatzle’s candidacy because it compelled the former top prosecutor to back Steiner, who had been censured by a watchdog agency for having sex in his chambers on different occasions with two women.
“He was embarrassed,” Baruch said of Rackauckas. “He knew it was a problem for him. It didn’t look good to have a district attorney support a judge against one of your employees.”
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