A former prosecutor and U.S. Marine Corps veteran said Tuesday that he will challenge Dist. Atty. Todd Spitzer to become Orange County’s top prosecutor next year in a race that is poised to test the climate for justice reform in a county that has historically favored tough-on-crime policies.
Peter Hardin, 42, announced his candidacy at a media briefing outside the Lamoreaux Justice Center and Juvenile Hall in Orange on Tuesday afternoon, surrounded by dozens of supporters holding blue and orange signs bearing the attorney’s name.
With his son by his side, Hardin outlined his catalog of ideas, including ending cash bail, halting the practice of prosecuting children as adults and abolishing the use of the death penalty. These policies, he says, will help bring the county’s justice system into the 21st Century.
“I’m running to enhance public safety, heal and restore our victims and survivors of crime, and restore integrity and professionalism to the Orange County district attorney’s office,” Hardin said. “I know that being a guardian of justice means doing the right thing all the time however difficult it may be. Across America we are facing a national reckoning with an outdated and ineffective criminal justice system. We have turned to prisons and punishment and turned our back on rehabilitation, support and redemption.”
Hardin said the system frequently leads to mass incarceration and siphons taxpayer money away from public schools, after-school programs, mental health services, and drug and alcohol counseling that can help reduce crime.
Hardin served as a judge advocate in the U.S. Marine Corps for more than five years after graduating from the George Washington University Law School. He served in Helmand Province in Afghanistan in 2011 and 2012 as a member of the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion. After leaving the service, he was a deputy in the Orange County district attorney’s office for a year and a prosecutor in the U.S. attorney’s office for two years. He entered private practice in 2017.
Hardin’s challenge comes during a tumultuous time for Spitzer’s office, which has been dogged by a series of scandals in recent months, including allegations of sexual harassment and criticism over the handling of a high-profile Newport Beach sexual assault case.
During the contentious race for district attorney in 2018 against Tony Rackauckas, Spitzer — then a county supervisor — billed himself as a reform candidate. At the time, he was fiercely critical of prosecutors’ use of jailhouse informants to obtain confessions and win convictions, and ran on a platform promising to lead an honest and accountable office.
Hardin has found support from some of Spitzer’s former allies turned vocal critics. Among them is Paul Wilson, whose wife was one of eight people killed by Scott Dekraai at a Seal Beach hair salon in 2011 in the deadliest mass shooting in county history. Though Wilson supported Spitzer in 2018, he told the crowd Tuesday that he has since been disappointed by Spitzer’s failure to clean up the district attorney’s office.
“After years of excruciating pain I thought the county had a savior in Todd Spitzer. He ran a campaign to remove the district attorney with Spitzer speaking every day about the terrible misconduct of our case and the need for accountability and change of culture,” Wilson said. “It was all a con game.”
Spitzer, who stood behind television news cameras as Hardin made his announcement Tuesday, said he attended the briefing to learn about his challenger’s policies, which he compared to the progressive platform of recently elected Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón.
“Mr. Harden made it unequivocally clear that he wants to be the next George Gascón for Orange County and I’m telling you, unequivocally, it’s not going to happen,” Spitzer said. “This county will not tolerate it. They will not stand for it.”
Hardin refuted those assertions during his speech, saying that his policies will be tailored to meet the needs of Orange County.
“Todd Spitzer has built his career on tough on crime rhetoric and using fear and intimidation as a tactic,” Hardin said. “I know that he wants to run against George Gascón, but my name is Peter Hardin and we’re in Orange County not in L.A.”
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