Top defense attorney accuses OC authorities of withholding evidence on untold number of cases – OCRegister

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The Orange County Sheriff’s Department and District Attorney’s Office denied fair trials to untold criminal defendants by withholding or failing to look for evidence that should have been turned over to defense attorneys, a top lawyer alleged in a court motion Wednesday.
Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders wrote that sheriff’s officials, in an audit on whether evidence was being booked in a timely manner, focused only on patrol deputies and not detectives, who handle a higher level of evidence with more implications on cases. Officials, however, told the rank-and-file that deputies and detectives had been included in the 2016-18 audit, Sanders alleged.
“Quite clearly, the leadership of the OCSD had excluded the investigators from the audit in order to limit the number of serious cases affected, as well as to protect personnel they clearly valued more,” Sanders said. “However, recognizing that deputies would be infuriated if audits were limited to only their rank … the leadership created a plan to deceive.”
Sanders alleges District Attorney Todd Spitzer has aided Sheriff Don Barnes in keeping audit information away from defense lawyers.
The probe found that deputies systematically booked evidence late and sometimes not at all. But the cases were still being adjudicated in the court with defendants unaware that the evidence — cash, drugs, weapons and the like —was missing. So far, two fired deputies have pleaded guilty to misdemeanors for mishandling evidence while a third has been indicted on felony charges.
Sheriff’s spokeswoman Carrie Braun said, “The accusations regarding the Sheriff’s Department are inaccurate. The department took immediate corrective action and continues to audit and proactively educate all personnel regarding the vital importance of booking evidence within policy.”
In an unrelated issue, Sanders also alleged in his motion that authorities have long concealed the bulk of log notes kept by deputies on their dealings with jailhouse informants. Although deputies testified in court that such a log did not exist, it was unearthed in 2016 as part of court hearings in the case of mass killer Scott Dekraai.
Under former District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, 243 pages of the log were turned over to the Public Defender’s Office. Then-prosecutor Dan Wagner said he would go through the remainder of the 1,157-page log, identify the cases involved and turn over the file to defense attorneys. But in his motion, Sanders wrote that that was never done, in retaliation for an appellate ruling that found the misuse of jailhouse informants in Orange County to be “systemic.”
“Furious prosecutors exacted their revenge on defendants by reburying the (special handling) log and placing it even deeper in the ground,” Sanders wrote. He accuses Spitzer of keeping the logs buried, despite evidence disclosure requirements, after taking over the office from Rackauckas.
Kimberly Edds, spokesperson for Spitzer, said Sanders could not be more wrong.
“When the current District Attorney administration learned that the prior District Attorney abandoned its action plan to review the Sheriff’s Special Handling Log (SH Log), District Attorney Spitzer immediately directed a top to bottom review of the … log by a team of veteran prosecutors,” Edds said. “That review, which involves a complete review of every inmate listed in the log to determine if … 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.”
On another point, Sanders claimed Spitzer said on a broadcast program that Sanders apologized in court to prosecutors for false accusations, when no such apology was made. Sanders also said Spitzer accused him of planning a campaign for the district attorney’s post in 2022 so he could ” throw the doors open on the jail.”
.Edds accused Sanders of using his job for personal purposes and criticized his boss. interim Public Defender Martin Schwarz, for letting him do it.
“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,” Edds said.
“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.”
Sanders’ motion seeks to remove the District Attorney’s Office from the methamphetamine possession case against his client.
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