Orange County

Orange County D.A. Tony Rackauckas Disputes Grand Jury's Report

Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas repeatedly disputed an Orange County grand jury's report concluding a perception among his employees that the office has issues with sexual harassment, favoritism and fear of retaliation for whistleblowers.

In a letter dated Monday, but only released to the public after business hours Tuesday, Rackauckas took issue with the grand jury's report in June.

In a summary of his response and elsewhere in the legally obligated response to the grand jury, Rackauckas touts a variety of accomplishments. He does not allude to a rash of complaints from a prosecutor and three members of his Bureau of Investigations that they were subjected to retaliation and harassment.

Rackauckas does accept that there is a perception among some in his office that there are issues.

"Against this backdrop of excellence,'' Rackauckas writes in reference to a listing of awards his office has won in recent years, "the OCDA recognizes that some decisions made in the bureau impacted morale and compromised the professionalism and integrity of the bureau and the OCDA.

"When these issues came to light, the OCDA took swift and decisive actions to ensure these issues were corrected before the issuance of this report. Change in leadership, outreach to employees, conducting human resources investigations, and developing policies that go further than one county policy.

"The OCDA believes these changes have helped to restore morale and confidence in the future direction of the bureau." 

Rackauckas did not name names in his letter, but his reference to a "change in leadership," might be about removing the top two officials in his investigations unit in April.

Craig Hunter, the former head of the investigations unit, was removed from duty and is not expected to return. Assistant Chief Lou Gutierrez was also placed on a leave of absence then.

Hunter filed a claim with the county in May, alleging that his former boss was selectively choosing public corruption cases, allowing his friends to skate while prosecuting others.

Also in May, investigators Tom Conklin and Abraham Santos filed claims alleging they were whistleblowers who became targets of unfair discipline at work.

The grand jury noted in its June report it lacked the authority to investigate the claims of harassment, but said the mere perception of those problems was enough to spur multiple recommendations.

The grand jury report states that "whether or not the specific allegations presented to the grand jury are true, the sheer volume and pervasiveness of the perception of favoritism and retaliation based on sexual relationships is problematic as that perception alone can create a hostile work environment.

"A hostile work environment can undermine morale, reduce productivity, negatively impact agency operations and can pose a financial liability for the county." 

Rackauckas said his employees have been notified in writing of the best practices in avoiding a "hostile-free work environment." He said his managers also receive extensive training on the topic.

The grand jury found that the county's sexual harassment policy does not "prohibit supervisor-subordinate intimate relationships." 

Rackauckas said the county cannot specifically address romantic relationships among managers and employees, but, he added, it has been his office's policy to "prohibit such a relationship." 

Rackauckas said the investigations unit is "developing a stronger policy against nepotism and conflicting relationships," with negotiations underway with union leaders.

Attorney Joel Baruch, who represents Santos, Conklin and veteran prosecutor Karen Schatzle, said, "Why can't Tony Rackauckas and his office admit personal responsibility for its apparent failures?''

Schatzle filed a claim this month alleging she was being punished for running unsuccessfully for judge last year against a friend of Rackauckas'.

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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