Photo by John Schreiber.
Photo by John Schreiber.

The Orange County Grand Jury’s investigation of the use of jailhouse informants in the county’s jails was revealed during Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting.

The board was told by its attorney, Leon Page, that it must pay a $401,500 legal bill to two law firms aiding the grand jury in its investigation.

Even though the board was not involved in the hiring of the law firms or knew of the investigation, the law requires county taxpayers to foot the bill because the work was authorized by the presiding judge of the Orange County Superior Court system.

The Attorney General’s Office, which was investigating the jailhouse informant program,  hired the law firms aiding the grand jury. The program first drew criticism in the case against Scott Evans Dekraai, who alleged his due process rights were violated by snitches in the jail.

The grand jury investigation began Aug. 11. The law firms are contracted through June 30.

“We didn’t hire the firms, we didn’t determine the scope of the work,” Supervisor Todd Spitzer said at Tuesday’s board meeting. “And yet it is being provided to us, and we are being told we have to pay for it.”

If the board refused to pay the legal bills then the Auditor- Controller’s Office would have to find the money elsewhere in the county till to pay it, Page said.

Spitzer said the arrangement was a first in his 10 years “on and off” the county board. Page said it was unique in his experience as well.

“I’ve never seen the assistance of outside counsel in any (grand jury) report I have reviewed,” Spitzer said.

“In your career, have you ever seen this before?” Spitzer asked Page.

“I have not,” he replied.

Attorney Andrea Sheridan Ordin and the firm Strumwasser & Woocher have been retained by the Attorney General’s Office.

In related news, the Fourth District Court of Appeal upheld a lower court judge’s ruling removing the Orange County District Attorney’s Office from the prosecution of Dekraai, the worst mass killer in county history. Prosecutors did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Orange County sheriff’s Lt. Mark Stichter, a spokesman for the department, said his office could not comment on the ruling because the county’s attorneys have “not yet been able to review the language in the decision.”

—City News Service

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