An Afghanistan War veteran and attorney Tuesday began his campaign to unseat Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer, accusing the incumbent of being more interested in self-promotion than justice.
“I’m gravely concerned that my opponent fights more for headlines and TV appearances than he has for really smart justice,” said Peter Hardin, a former Marine and attorney who has worked as a state and federal prosecutor, as he announced his campaign in front of Juvenile Hall in Orange.
Hardin said he would not pursue the death penalty or seek to prosecute minors as adults and would work to end the cash-bail system. Hardin said he would not oppose sentencing enhancements wholesale, but said each case must be considered on its own merits.
Spitzer retorted that Hardin was pushing a progressive agenda that voters would reject.
Hardin also cited a series of scandals that have rocked Spitzer’s office since his election in 2018.
Spitzer has drawn criticism for attempting to dismiss a series of sexual assault charges against a Newport Beach physician and his girlfriend, for the way he handled the sheriff’s evidence booking issues, sexual harassment claims from four women prosecutors who worked under Spitzer’s longtime friend, and a legal claim from a former district attorney’s investigator who alleges Spitzer engaged in pay-to-play politics and attempted to obstruct a query of Spitzer’s campaign finances.
Spitzer has said he reported the sexual harassment claims as soon as he was made aware of them, pushed for additional investigation of the evidence booking scandal and denied the allegations from the fired district attorney’s investigator.
Hardin also included testimonials at his campaign kickoff from Paul Wilson, whose wife was murdered by mass killer Scott Dekraai and former Spitzer aide Christine Richters, who alleged her boss had a hair-trigger temper in her lawsuit against the county, which was later settled.
Ada Briceno, the co-president of the Unite-Here Local 11 organization and chair of the Orange County Democratic Party, also attended and spoke at the event.
Wilson accused Spitzer of persuading him to do a campaign commercial for him, but as soon as he got into office he broke his promises to Wilson to reform the office.
Wilson’s wife, Christy, was one of eight victims of Dekraai, who pleaded guilty and was later sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole when a judge took the death penalty away as an option due to prosecutorial misconduct before Spitzer’s election.
Spitzer “worked on me, assured me that his word was solid and it was built to last,” Wilson said. “When he won I thought victims and the criminal justice system had won as well. I wanted nothing more than for him to keep his promises… But, you see, it was all a con game.”
Instead of firing the two prosecutors involved in the Dekraai case, Spitzer promoted them, Wilson said. And then he attended their retirement party “gushing about these prosecutors,” Wilson said.
Hardin said Spitzer also “promoted his best friend, his best man at his wedding even after becoming aware he had sexually harassed his associates… He allowed his best friend to quietly retire with top-flight benefits.”
Spitzer is a “walking scandal and an unfit leader,” Hardin said.
Hardin said he would “embrace 21st century policies” that will create a criminal justice system that is more “modern, fair and equitable.”
Hardin said he opposes the cash-bail system because he said it gives an unfair advantage to wealthier defendants who can afford to get out of custody while awaiting trial.
“The death penalty has never been known to deter crime,” Hardin said. “It is wildly expensive and it drags victims through decades of appeals that revictimizes survivors of crime, and all this in a state with a moratorium on the death penalty.”
Hardin said Orange County leads the state in prosecuting underage defendants as adults and said he would seek to end that.
“They have tremendous potential for change,” Hardin said of underage defendants. “We must prioritize support and rehabilitation of incarceration for our children.”
Hardin said Spitzer has “built his career on tough-on-crime rhetoric and intimidation as a tactic.”
Hardon also ridiculed Spitzer’s penchant of late for criticizing Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon.
“I know he wants to run against George Gascon, but my name is Peter Hardin and we’re in Orange County, not L.A.,” Hardin said.
Spitzer attended the news conference, and Hardin noted it as he said, “It’s no surprise Mr. Spitzer is here. he has built a career of fear and intimidating people… And the cameras are here. Exactly. He follows the cameras.”
Spitzer said Wilson was “one of the most corrupt donors a person can have… Paul has made it very clear he expected me to fire three people on my first day in office. And when I didn’t do that he turned away from me… He’s expecting a quid pro quo and I made it very clear that we were going to get to the bottom of the snitch scandal and we did a whole report on it.”
Spitzer said the prosecutors Wilson supposedly wanted fired had employee and due process rights and could not just be outright let go. Spitzer acknowledged that he made a mistake attending the retirement party of two of the prosecutors.
“I made the mistake of going to their retirement party and saying something nice about them,” Spitzer told City News Service. “I thought, you know, they’re walking out the door. I’m going to say something nice and I’ve been punished for saying something nice.”
Spitzer said Hardin was a “Gascon clone,” and noted that Hardin’s campaign manager worked for Gascon.
“They want to turn Orange County into L.A. and no one will tolerate that,” Spitzer said.
Spitzer said he refrains from endorsing candidates because he wants to assure the public his prosecutions are not politically tinged. But he said Hardin politicized the race by inviting Briceno, who he said endorsed Hardin because, “We’re prosecuting her” for a protest at Disneyland.
“This is nothing more than payback for that,” he said.
Spitzer said he has implemented “various kinds of reforms” as the county’s top prosecutor and added, “I believe in low-level diversion” for defendants convicted of minor crimes.
“I’m not a caveman prosecutor and they know that,” Spitzer said. “The fact is I know this county and I am telling you unequivocally that Orange County is not going to tolerate George Gascon-type progressive policies here.”
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