Photo by John Schreiber.
Photo by John Schreiber.

Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairman Todd Spitzer on Thursday called on the head of the union representing the county’s attorneys to recuse himself as the organization’s spokesman following a potential threat of legal action from the lawyers against the county.

The dispute arose out of the board’s intent to explore expanding the Office of Independent Review to also scrutinize the county’s prosecutors and public defenders.

Following criticism of the effort and the possibility of a lawsuit, Spitzer called on Senior Deputy District Attorney Larry Yellin to step down as the spokesman for the Orange County Attorneys Association.

Yellin, who is president of the union, “should recuse himself as the union spokesman since a unit in the District Attorney’s Office that he is assigned to is currently being investigated by the California Attorney General over exactly these issues,” Spitzer said, referring to the Attorney General’s Office’s review of misconduct allegations in the prosecution of Scott Dekraai, the worst mass killer in county history.

Spitzer, a former prosecutor, accused Yellin of “playing politics to ingratiate himself with his boss and also to protect his unit.”

Yellin said Spitzer’s recusal request was “both offensive and illegal.”

“I will not be intimidated, silenced, or handcuffed by Todd Spitzer like I’m having lunch in a Wahoos,” a reference to a Good Friday incident in which the board chairman felt so threatened by a restaurant customer who wanted to talk religion that he went out to his car to get a loaded gun and a pair of handcuffs, which he used to detain the man until sheriff’s deputies arrived.

Yellin also said it was “absolutely false” to say the District Attorney’s Office homicide unit was being investigated by the state Attorney General’s Office.

“He is being either dishonest or ignorant,” Yellin said.

The back-and-forth follows Tuesday’s vote by the board to potentially expand the OIR’s authority from the Sheriff’s Department to also handle complaints against the Public Defender, District Attorney, Social Services Agency, and Probation Department.

Spitzer has argued that county officials have a right to know more about complaints because they could lead to costly litigation. He told City News Service he “welcomed” a lawsuit from the attorneys’ union.

“Ironically, Spitzer’s claim that the (Board of Supervisors) needs an OIR to avoid lawsuits while proclaiming he welcomes the litigation (from the attorneys) shows the depth of his hypocrisy,” Yellin said. “This is a poorly veiled attempt to grab control of the District Attorney’s Office.”

Yellin also noted that, “the last time the (Board of Supervisors) ‘welcomed’ litigation from us, it cost the taxpayers over $13 million.”

The last time the Orange County Attorneys Association took their employers to court it won a partial victory that led to the board settling the legal dispute. In that dispute the issue was the same. The attorneys argued county officials failed to collectively bargain a dispute over salary and forced a contract on them.

The board agreed in May to pay $10.5 million to the county’s attorneys working in the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, Public Defender’s Office, County Counsel’s Office and Child Support Services division, which was roughly the difference in what they were receiving in salary versus the contract imposed on them two years ago.

The attorneys argue that the board’s 3-2 vote on Tuesday to consider expanding the OIR amounted to a violation of their collective bargaining rights.

Spitzer and Supervisor Andrew Do, who were in charge of an ad-hoc committee studying the expansion, tried to assure union leaders on Tuesday who objected to any change without collective bargaining that they were only deciding whether to go forward with planning an expansion, not an actual expansion.

Spitzer also argued that the agency would not get into the nitty gritty of specific cases with complaints of misconduct.

— City News Service

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