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Five years later: Some fear Orange County jail snitch scandal will go unpunished

James Queally, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

Since becoming district attorney, he said, he has turned over thousands of pages of training documents and nearly 100 case files to the U.S. Justice Department. Spitzer would not describe the nature of the cases or say if they involved informant misuse. The oldest was filed in 1998, according to Kimberly Edds, a public information officer for the district attorney's office.

Spitzer also said he has taken steps to curb potential abuses.

The use of jailhouse informants at trial now will require his written approval, and since taking office he has established an ethics officer position and a conviction integrity review unit. Spitzer said he is "champing at the bit" to learn the results of the federal investigation. But he said he also must balance the demands of running the office in the present with trying to reconcile its past.

"I'm trying to get closure. There is no doubt. But the amount of resources and time that this agency is investing in complying is really intense," he said.

A U.S. DOJ spokeswoman declined to comment. Spitzer has said he wants to settle the federal investigation and admit to any wrongdoing committed under his predecessor, citing voluminous discovery requests from the federal government. Those comments concern those who hoped a prolonged investigation might uncover additional trials where prosecutors failed to provide defense attorneys with information about the use of jailhouse informants, or cases where informants obtained confessions in an unconstitutional manner.

Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders, who represented Dekraai and exposed the informant scandal, said in recent court filings that Spitzer appears to have backed off the fiery reformer rhetoric of the election cycle and has failed to disclose relevant evidence. Specifically, Sanders criticized Spitzer for calling the federal investigation a "fishing expedition" and said he demonstrated a "vanishing appetite" for working with the DOJ.


Other attempts to uncover misconduct have stalled, civil liberty advocates say.

ACLU staff attorney Somil Trivedi said the group's lawsuit, filed last year, would have forced Orange County to make public a trove of information about the informant program, but the case was thrown out by a judge who said the plaintiffs did not have standing to sue. The ACLU -- which argued in its suit that it had found court transcripts proving informants were planted next to a murder defendant in a case from 1980 -- is appealing the decision.

"We have found cases going back 30 years, and these are all pretty serious cases, and every one of them is at risk for being reopened," Trivedi said.

Frustrations also have turned toward the state attorney general's office.


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