MOORLACH UPDATE — Alumnus DA? — June 11, 2017

I have another alumni in the news. The OC Register‘s Commentary section provides an interesting alternative to the two most visible Orange County District Attorney candidates. They are the incumbent and the Third District Supervisor.

The piece below opens with the dilemma. The two major dancers are flawed. So, who would be crazy enough to step into the fray? The June Primary would find that candidate trying to get the two knowns below 50 percent. Then, in the November General, hope to prevail. It’s not an easy road.

I could give plenty of links to the two titans, but the piece deals with them already. So, let me deal with the "dark horse" candidate that this piece focuses on, Professor Mario Mainero. Mario is one of the smartest people I’ve ever had the privilege to work with. He is also one of the sincerest. Although I don’t believe he’s ever managed a large department, we certainly enjoyed a number of adventures during our brief journey together. Allow me to give you just a few of them, since I’m not concerned about allowing staff to respond to media requests, my UPDATE records are replete with Mario mentions.

With the title of Professor, let me start there. Here is an UPDATE that provides a perspective on his current role at Chapman University’s School of Law, MOORLACH UPDATE — Mainero — December 4, 2009 december 4, 2009 john moorlach, but it also mentions some historical events that need elaboration.

The first is the County’s ethics commission efforts. Mario worked hard on trying to pursue this concern while he was my Chief of Staff. This activity revolved around one Shirley Grindle. See MOORLACH UPDATE — Shirley Grindle — July 19, 2015 july 20, 2015 john moorlach. This link provides a number of additional links for your reading pleasure. Mario continued on this project in his current role and assisted in the successful passage of countywide Measure A on the June, 2016 ballot. Consequently, Mario is familiar with the political process.

The first link also mentions the OC Fair and its potential sale during the Schwarzenegger era. This was a difficult and convoluted process that looked promising going in, but got perplexing as it progressed. It was one of the more disappointing episodes during my time as County Supervisor. See MOORLACH UPDATE — OC Register — September 24, 2011 september 24, 2011 john moorlach. The crazy thing about the whole affair was the District Attorney’s review of the transaction, with a very awkward and, in my opinion, flawed conclusion. Consequently, Mario has firsthand experience with a political DA.

Let me transition here to provide a few links about my alumni. It has been a joy to serve as a County Supervisor and I have had some incredible professionals on my staff. You just received a recent UPDATE on one of them (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Alumni and Recognition — June 7, 2017 june 7, 2017 john moorlach). Here are a few more fun links: MOORLACH UPDATE — Good Bye and God Bless — January 2, 2015 january 2, 2015 john moorlach, MOORLACH UPDATE — JWA Settlement Agreement — October 1, 2014 october 1, 2014 john moorlach, MOORLACH UPDATE — Chiefs of Staff — August 9, 2014 august 9, 2014 john moorlach, and MOORLACH UPDATE — OC Register — December 9, 2011 december 9, 2011 john moorlach. Consequently, Mario has had government experience with the County of Orange.

One of the first tasks that I gave to Mario was researching the constitutionality of granting retroactive pension benefits. The research bore out that granting them was unconstitutional. But, Superior Court and Appellate Court Judges are in the state pension system, as are Supreme Court Justices. You can see my bias as to why are efforts were not successful. See MOORLACH UPDATE — Seal Beach Sun — August 3, 2012 august 3, 2012 john moorlach, MOORLACH UPDATE — I-405 Toll-Lane Proposal — July 21, 2012 july 21, 2012 john moorlach,MOORLACH UPDATE — Petition Denied — April 14, 2011 april 14, 2011 john moorlach, and MOORLACH UPDATE — California Lawyer — September 8, 2010 september 8, 2010 john moorlach. Consequently, Mario proved his legal research capabilities.

Mario also assisted in contract negotiations, including the remaining contracts that were still open after I assumed the office of Supervisor. While completing my term as Treasurer, I assisted in negotiating one of the nation’s more successful retiree medical plan restructurings (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Alternative 2 — October 22, 2012 october 22, 2012 john moorlach). Consequently, Mario knows how to deal with public employee unions at the negotiating table.

With the tragic murder of John Derek Chamberlain in the Theo Lacy Jail, we were able to establish an excellent Office of Independent Review. The idea was first established by Los Angeles Sheriff Lee Baca, but he did not adhere to his. Orange County did and avoided a number of law suits that LA County did not (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Money for Nothing — September 2, 2015 september 2, 2015 john moorlach and MOORLACH UPDATE — Property Tax Due Date — April 10, 2013 april 10, 2013 john moorlach). Consequently, Mario understands and appreciates the role of an independent oversight structure.

Another one of the issues we addressed in our first few months was the dueling DNA labs. The Sheriff usually has one, but the DA unilaterally decided to establish his own, for many reasons (see MOORLACH UPDATE — United Way — December 16, 2013 december 16, 2013 john moorlach and MOORLACH UPDATE — Highway Robbery — September 23, 2013 september 23, 2013 john moorlach). Mario even visited the main contractor for the DA in Birmingham, Great Britain. Consequently, he fully appreciates this technology.

In 2008, I pursued a charter amendment that would require voters to approve any negotiated improvements to public employee union pension benefits if they created an immediate liability. It was Measure J, and it was approved resoundingly by the voters (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Happy Birthday! — September 30, 2013 september 30, 2013 john moorlach). Consequently, Mario fully appreciates campaigns and the debilitating impacts of unfunded liabilities.

With the joys of having an airport in my District, we focused first on an effort to work with neighboring facilities. The organization went by the acronym of SCRAA, Southern California Regional Airport Authority. Because we saw it as a deficient remedy, I refused to be seated on its Board. It would eventually disband (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Loose Interview — February 2, 2013 february 3, 2013 john moorlach and MOORLACH UPDATE — Pension Overhaul — September 6, 2012 september 6, 2012 john moorlach). Consequently, Mario appreciates intergovernmental efforts.

Although Mario was not on my staff when the John Wayne Airport Settlement Agreement negotiations were in full bloom and concluded, we always kept our eyes on this ball (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Filing Closes — March 13, 2010 march 13, 2010 john moorlach). Consequently, Mario knows how to keep his eye on the horizon.

One of the most disappointing occurrences was the melt down of "America’s Sheriff" right before our eyes. It was not easy to ask Sheriff Carona to resign, but I did. And, I was the only one to do so for a lengthy period of time before he finally did (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Super Vote — November 6, 2012 november 6, 2012 john moorlach and MOORLACH UPDATE — CSUF/Mihaylo — November 5, 2012 november 5, 2012 john moorlach). Consequently, Mario knows how to deal with the tough and unpleasant decisions.

Although Sacramento is a union town, I was not interested in making Orange County one. So we constructed an ordinance that would not allow the requiring of Project Labor Agreements for construction contracts, unless required by law, which was the case before I took the position (see MOORLACH UPDATE — — January 28, 2010 january 28, 2010 john moorlach and MOORLACH UPDATE — PLA — October 29, 2009 october 29, 2009 john moorlach). Consequently, Mario is not afraid to go against the grain or take on powerful, private sector unions.

Another initiative that was being tossed around was the potential of handing over the Orange County Sheriff’s Harbor Patrol functions to the city of Newport Beach. This certainly generated a strong reaction from the Sheriff’s union (see MOORLACH UPDATE — OC Register — May 3, 2012 may 3, 2012 john moorlach). Consequently, Mario can help in gathering the appropriate professionals to reach a satisfactory conclusion.

A critical Sheriff’s Department concern was the amount of overtime. We utilized a similar strategy, utilizing the Performance Audit Department, to obtain a satisfactory handle on this matter (see MOORLACH UPDATE — H.R. 205 — August 28, 2013 august 28, 2013 john moorlach). Consequently, deploying the proper professionals to a situation provides the information to make better decisions.

If dealing with all of these balls in the air was not enough, my successor County Treasurer had an investment that went sour, and found me addressing it as a County Supervisor. The "Whistlejacket" investment was one of many fun antics from my former Department (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Voice of OC — March 19, 2013 march 19, 2013 john moorlach). Consequently, Mario can quickly handle surprises which entail technical difficulties.

As the political world is not a pretty one, and scuffles can arise and tempers rise, Mario did not have an issue in discerning the former Attorney General’s motivations in how he addressed my retroactive pension benefit law suit (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Adopt a Channel — September 13, 2013 september 13, 2013 john moorlach and MOORLACH UPDATE — New Geography — September 4, 2013 september 4, 2013 john moorlach). But, dealing with this type of activity when you are the candidate is a different matter. I wish Mario well, should he move forward, as scuffles are not always his favorite past times.

For fun, let me toss in the time we both attended a swearing in ceremony for the incumbent District Attorney, affectionately referred to here as T-Rack (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Belmont Shore-Naples Patch — January 12, 2012 january 12, 2012 john moorlach). Which gets me to my conclusion.

Steven Greenhut was not too friendly to me and Mario in a piece some eight years ago that dealt with Tony Rackauckus and his inability to publicly debate his support of the death penalty (see Maybe this is still under Mario’s craw. But, Mario knows Tony and Mario knows Todd and Mario is right in that the County could do better. Let’s hope that his "testing the waters" adventure is a positive one.

A welcome dark-horse candidate in DA race

By Steven Greenhut

Orange County’s criminal justice system — and especially the District Attorney’s Office — has been racked by scandal and the subject of unflattering national media attention and ongoing court battles. There are few things government does that are more important than dealing with crime and punishment, so it’s upsetting to witness the never-ending sea of controversy.

For such a wealthy and sophisticated county, residents here have had a long and depressing tolerance for dysfunction in such an important area of public life. Part of the reason is the suburban nature of the county. There’s a law-and-order ethic that, unfortunately, doesn’t always mind if cops and prosecutors play fast and loose with the rules.

But the bigger problem may be politics. Republican District Attorney Tony Rackauckas — a man I heartily defended when he was challenged for re-election in 2002 — careens from one high-profile problem to another. The latest: Two DA investigators made some whistle-blower allegations against Rackauckas. “It is the second time this month that Rackauckas has been accused by one of his investigators of using his office to help political supporters and retaliate against those who voice opposition,” according to a Register report in late May.

But many local Republicans are loath to criticize Rackauckas too harshly. They know he may deserve brickbats, but believe the alternative is too awful to contemplate. That alternative would be Supervisor Todd Spitzer, the former assemblyman who has been hammering Rackauckas for years. Spitzer, also a Republican but not a party loyalist, wants to be the next DA. Unfortunately, he is so eager for the post that he gives lots of people the creeps.

So the adults who should be calling for major justice system reform here largely are mum, lest their criticism of Rackauckas help Spitzer win. Spitzer — a guy whose citizen’s arrest of an evangelist who bothered him at a restaurant two years ago has raised “temperament” questions — can come across like a door-to-door salesman exploiting any angle to get you to sign on the dotted line. That devalues the legitimate and thoughtful criticisms he makes.

Maybe it’s time to break out of this world of binary choices. Enter a potential dark-horse candidate, a well-respected Chapman University law professor and former chief of staff to then-Supervisor (and now state senator) John Moorlach. Mario Mainero is seriously considering a run for district attorney. If he can’t raise the funds, he wants another qualified legal mind to enter the fray.

If he runs in 2018, Mainero is pledging an issues-oriented, nonpartisan campaign focused on managing the DA’s department in a fair and just manner, avoiding any hint of political favoritism, professionalizing the department, and avoiding a “win at all costs” mentality that he claims is at the heart of the problems surrounding the District Attorney’s Office.

“The problem is, indeed, exacerbated because both Tony and Todd are playing politics over it,” he told me. “Todd has looked for every opportunity to skewer the DA’s office, and Tony has responded with criticism of Todd’s overeagerness in just about everything. I loathe what Tony has done to the culture of the DA’s office … and I fear that Todd … would politicize the office as well, just in a very different way.” Some fear Spitzer might wage political witch hunts.

From a policy perspective, Mainero would refuse to use snitches that are in violation of the right to counsel; stop having press conferences in major cases that come across as political grandstanding; halt the pursuit of death penalty cases, which he says sap resources that could be better used; and end the DA-run crime lab, which he sees as a conflict of interest because the DA’s Office has a vested interest in the evidence that helps determine the outcome of cases.

Mainero would also evaluate whether the Sheriff’s Department is using unconstitutional tactics to gather evidence in the jails, and create a professionalized unit within the DA’s Office to prosecute political crime. On the latter point, he pledges that he would not be as zealous as the DA’s Office in the past, but would take such allegations more seriously than Rackauckas, who has made a point of avoiding political corruption cases.

“The next DA must have clearer ethics, more transparency and understand how law enforcement and prosecutorial misconduct undermine the first duty of justice, which is to truth,” said Diane Goldstein, a former police lieutenant and Orange County resident who works on criminal justice reform issues. Such views should resonate in the county.

I’m not touting Mainero’s — or anyone’s — candidacy, but it would be nice for Orange County residents to consider something out of the box and finally break out of this Spitzer vs. Rackauckas rut.

Steven Greenhut is a Sacramento-based journalist. He was a Register editorial writer from 1998-2009. Write to him at stevengreenhut.


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