Defense Attorney Ratchets Up Criticism of Orange County DA and Snitch Scandal

October 22, 2020 Updated: October 22, 2020

SANTA ANA, Calif. (CNS)—A defense attorney who won the recusal of the Orange County District Attorney’s Office from prosecuting the worst mass killer in county history ratcheted up his efforts on Oct. 21 to achieve the same objective in a drug possession case with new allegations of cheating by local law enforcement.

Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders, whose client Robert Glenn Barr is charged with possession of a controlled substance with the intent to sell, alleged that District Attorney Todd Spitzer is covering up evidence in the so-called snitch scandal, which Spitzer used to unseat his predecessor Tony Rackauckas.

Sanders, in representing Scott Dekraai, got him off the hook for the death penalty for committing a Seal Beach beauty salon massacre based on allegations that sheriff’s deputies violated the rights of jail inmates and that prosecutors failed to turn over evidence to defense attorneys. Dekraai, who pleaded guilty to the 2011 killings of his ex-wife and seven others at the Salon Meritage, has been sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Sanders zeroed in on sheriff’s investigator Jonathan Larson, who is a “key witness” in the case against Barr, because Larson was a former member of the special handling unit at the center of the scandal involving allegations of the use of confidential informants to elicit illegal confessions from jail inmates.

Larson, Sanders argued, made entries in a “special handling log,” which was a diary of sorts created by deputies involved in the use of jailhouse informants.

A recent report on the snitch scandal commissioned by Spitzer’s office concluded that retired prosecutors Scott Simmons and Dan Wagner, who were assigned to Dekraai’s case, were guilty of negligence and laid much of the blame at their feet.

Sanders said the report included a mention that prosecutors “abandoned” a previously pledged effort to review all of the entries deputies made in the special handling unit log and turn them over to defense attorneys.

Sanders alleges prosecutors were angered that the District Attorney’s Office was booted from the Dekraai case and then further upset by losing the recusal on appeal.

“The concealment of Brady evidence from the [special handling unit] log and the cover-up that followed, involving numerous prosecutors and stretching across two OCDA administrations over more than four years, is perhaps the most egregious misconduct by a prosecutorial agency in United States history,” Sanders alleged in the amended recusal motion filed on Oct. 21.

Kimberly Edds, a spokesperson for the District Attorney’s Office, issued a statement regarding the accusations.

“When the current District Attorney administration learned that the prior District Attorney abandoned its action plan to review the Sheriff’s Special Handling Log, District Attorney Spitzer immediately directed a top-to-bottom review of the SH Log by a team of veteran prosecutors,” the statement said.

“That review, which involves a complete review of every inmate listed in the log to determine if Brady and discovery obligations have been met, has been ongoing for the last year, and is nearing completion. Defense attorneys have been notified when issues have been identified as a result of the review and those notifications are ongoing.”

Sanders also argues Spitzer should be recused for attempting to bully him with implied threats to try to have the public defender fired. Sanders points to a City News Service story in which Spitzer’s spokesperson said Orange County supervisors should direct interim Public Defender Martin Schwarz to rein in Sanders.

Sanders accused Spitzer of “brazenly false accusations, character assassination and intimidation.”

“The efforts to deceive, denigrate and intimidate are unprecedented in California recusal jurisprudence,” he added.

Sanders alleged Spitzer “brazenly lied” during a TV interview in July by claiming Sanders “apologized in court to prosecutors for having made false allegations.” Sanders noted that Spitzer has also claimed that Sanders is ramping up a run for district attorney, despite the fact that Sanders is currently ineligible for a run for the office because he does not live in the county.

Sanders said Spitzer cheered on his efforts in the Dekraai case because they were politically damaging to Rackauckas. He also noted that Ebrahim Baytieh, the head of special prosecutions, which includes cases against law enforcement, has also done a role reversal under both administrations.

Baytieh called allegations of prosecutorial misconduct during Rackauckas’s administration “baloney,” but now serves to block any release of the potentially damaging evidence in the special handling log to defense attorneys, including Sanders, he argued in his motion.

Sanders maintains that prosecutors are concerned the evidence could affect numerous closed cases. Also potentially embarrassing are revelations that sheriff’s investigators involved in an audit of a separate scandal involving the dilatory booking of evidence misled sheriff’s deputies that investigators were also under an internal review when the probe only involved deputies.

DA spokesperson Edds said: “The Orange County District Attorney’s Office files 70,000 cases a year. We litigate legal motions in a court of law, not in the press as has been the pattern and practice of the Orange County Public Defender’s Office.

“It is disappointing that Mr. Schwarz, as the interim, not permanent Public Defender, who reports to the Board of Supervisors, continues to allow one of his taxpayer-funded attorneys to hijack unrelated cases in order to further his own personal agenda. It is clear that Mr. Sanders cares more about advancing his own political and personal agenda than representing his client which is the work the taxpayers pay him to do.”

By Paul Anderson