Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer Wednesday fired back at a retired top-level prosecutor who filed a legal claim alleging she was subjected to retaliation for raising issues of sexual harassment and required disclosure of evidence to defense attorneys in two capital cases.
Tracy Miller, who filed the claim against the county on Tuesday, said she was forced to retire early, alleging she was continuously undermined and marginalized for alerting officials to alleged sexual harassment on the part of retired prosecutor Gary LoGalbo, and for questioning the handling of the prosecutions of murder defendants Jamon Buggs and Aminadab Gaxiola Gonzalez.
Several prosecutors are suing the county based on sexual and racial harassment claims stemming from allegations regarding comments made by LoGalbo, a close friend of Spitzer.
But Spitzer on Wednesday accused Miller and recently fired prosecutor Ebrahim Baytieh of orchestrating a coordinated effort to smear his name ahead of a re-election bid.
“The record is clear,” Spitzer said in a statement issued Wednesday. “When I became district attorney in 2019, I kept both Ebrahim Baytieh and Tracy Miller as at-will employees held over from the (former District Attorney Tony) Rackauckas administration in an effort to maintain stability and unite the office moving forward.
“It is blatantly obvious that going into my re-election that both Baytieh and Miller coordinated efforts to embarrass me and deter me from my efforts to reverse the ‘win at all costs’ mentality which involved violating the constitutional rights of defendants by cheating and failing to discover evidence to the defense,” he said.
Spitzer fired former Baytieh, who is a candidate for Orange County Superior Court judge, in early February following an outside law firm’s investigation into his handling of the prosecution of murder defendant Paul Gentile Smith.
Spitzer accused Miller and Baytieh of being “indoctrinated by a 20-year prior administration that taught you how to cheat, seek revenge and eviscerate your enemies. Despite good-faith efforts it was impossible to change their entrenched attitudes and behavior.”
He said both Miller and Baytieh were playing politics in an effort to derail his reelection bid.
“Ms. Miller’s claims are false and based on statements she claims she heard that were made in front of large groups of people, including the director of administrative services, who oversees Human Relations, a chief assistant district attorney, a special assistant attorney, the chief and assistant chief of the Bureau of Investigation, two other senior assistant district attorneys and the public information officer,” Spitzer added. “It is inconceivable that no one among the highest level of management said anything for years.”
Spitzer added, “Nothing will deter me from continuing my mission to clean up the public corruption in the Orange County District Attorney’s Office and safeguard the criminal justice system. I have been fully cooperating with the United States Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and have repeatedly offered to have the DOJ monitor the activities of the Orange County District Attorney’s Office. Investigators at the DOJ interviewed Baytieh at length about his role in failing to produce evidence in a murder case from 2010, a failure that forced me to retry to the case and put the victims through another trial. I have and will continue the pursuit of justice regardless of any efforts to derail that mission.”
In her claim filed Tuesday, Miller accused Spitzer of forcing her out of her job by “creating a hostile work environment” that was “in retaliation for Miller’s refusal to adopt race-based practices, her refusal to accept race-based attorney assignments and her refusal to remain silent when race was offered as justification for Spitzer’s decision-making process.”
Spitzer took heat earlier this month with the release of an internal memo describing comments the district attorney made during a meeting last year among prosecutors on whether to pursue the death penalty against Buggs, who is charged with a double murder. According to the memo, Spitzer said during the meeting that he knew Black men in college who dated white women as a status symbol. Spitzer said he raised the issue on the possibility that Buggs, who is Black, mistakenly shot one of the victims, who was a white woman, thinking it was his ex-girlfriend, who is also white.
Spitzer has insisted his comments were misquoted and taken out of context, saying he was raising the issue of “cross-racial identification” as a possible defense in the case, although that theory is usually used to describe how witnesses sometimes have trouble distinguishing people of another ethnicity from others of the same race.
Miller also claimed she was retaliated against for raising issues in Spitzer’s handling of the Gaxiola Gonzalez case when he spoke on the phone with Rafael Farias, the father of 9-year-old Matthew Farias, who was killed in a March 31 mass shooting in Orange allegedly carried out by Gonzalez. Miller claimed that during the phone call, Spitzer learned that Rafael Farias is a defendant in an auto theft case in which Matthew Farias’ mother, who survived the shooting, is listed as the victim.
Miller claimed the conversation raised evidentiary issues in the criminal case against Gonzalez.
Chapman University law school professor Mario Mainero told City News Service that he does not believe that the issues in the Buggs and Gaxiola Gonzalez cases will rise to the level of dismissal of the cases or even recusal of Spitzer’s office from prosecuting them.
“I can’t see a dismissal in either of these cases,” Mainero said.
“Certainly no in Buggs’ case because he’s not pursuing the death penalty now anyway.”
In the Gaxiola Gonzalez case, the defendant has been declared incompetent to stand trial due to a brain injury from being shot in the head. Though Spitzer contacted the prosecutor in Farias’ auto theft case as well as the defense attorney, Mainero doesn’t see that leading to a dismissal in the Gaxiola Gonzalez case where Rafael Farias is considered a witness.
“I don’t see this as creating conflict of interest in the entire DA office” that would justify recusing Spitzer’s office from prosecuting Gaxiola Gonzalez, Mainero said.
“I can see him being walled off from any decision in Gaxiola Gonzalez for the rest of the case’s life,” he said. “I can see walling off Shawn Nelson or anyone else in the hierarchy involved in that, but not disqualifying the entire DA office. I don’t see a reason to ship this to the Attorney General’s Office.”
Gaxiola Gonzalez’s attorney, Ken Morrison, said, “I’m aware of the allegations” in Miller’s complaint.
“But I’m going to reserve judgment until I’ve been able to carefully assess whether or not my client’s interests might be affected,” Morrison said.