What if a California prosecutorial office were so incompetent it couldn’t handle a simple courthouse press conference?
Those of you who’ve followed Tony Rackauckas’ Orange County district attorney’s office (OCDA) know the question isn’t rhetorical given its management’s continual, remorseless ethical scandals that have harmed innocent citizens and handed outrageous perks to violent criminals. Earlier this year, our prosecutorial agency, in league with Sandra Hutchens’ sheriff’s department, caused the loss of what should have been the easiest death-penalty case in Southern California history. But Rackauckas and his team seemed determined to end 2017 by squeezing in three final fiascos when they thought nobody was watching during the holidays.
On Dec. 22, the DA and Susan Kang Schroeder, his unhinged media flack, threw prosecutor James Laird out to reporters in hopes he could successfully pretend their agreement to eventually release a cold-blooded serial killer back on the streets was a public service.
This is fiasco No. 1.
A bumbling, prevaricating Laird stood in front of journalists’ microphones and became increasingly agitated that he was questioned at a press conference about why he was willing to free Oscar Moriel, the Mexican Mafia soldier turned snitch who admits he has killed at least “five or six” people and, thanks to Rackauckas, will never be held accountable for those deaths.
Reporters legitimately wanted to know why prosecutors hadn’t forced Moriel to provide details about his killings so that the families of the victims might find peace or clear inmates wrongly convicted of his murders, but Laird didn’t know what to say other than it wasn’t a big concern.
To their credit, reporters Lisa Bartley, Meghann Cuniff and Paul Anderson persisted while Laird somehow conjured up in his mind that I stood in front of him, silently mocking his absurd presentation after defining the Moriel scandal with a June 2016 cover story.
“Who’s this guy, Moxley, back there?” the high-ranking prosecutor said in the middle of a question from Anderson.
Then Laird stormed over to the would-be Moxley.
(Because I wasn’t there, I had to email him later to ask if he’d planned to choke my neck, scream in my face or just chest bump me, but he hasn’t mustered up a response.)
Instead, Schroeder informed him as he approached the wrong person, “No, that’s Paul Wilson.”
This is fiasco No. 2.
Incredibly, Laird didn’t know who Wilson was, responding awkwardly, “Okay, and where are you?”
Wilson replied, “My wife was killed in the Dekraai murders.”
Deservedly humiliated, Laird retreated. “Okay, okay,” he said. “I just wanted to know why you were giving me such bad looks over there.”
A horrified Wilson had watched firsthand for more than three years how cheating prosecutors and sheriff’s deputies unnecessarily wrecked the Dekraai case, which stemmed from the largest mass killings in Orange County history, the 2011 Seal Beach salon massacre.
So Wilson gave Laird his answer. “Well, I’m laughing at your speech you’re giving,” he said. “It’s quite humorous.”
Schooled, the prosecutor pretended to field other questions, but he was so unnerved by the botched Moxley assault that he absentmindedly abandoned Rackauckas’ talking point and admitted police and deputies violated pretrial inmates’ constitutional rights by employing jailhouse informants, such as Moriel, to win convictions.
Bartley then asked Laird “if the officers who are believed to have committed perjury [to cover up the snitch scam] should be prosecuted.”
This is fiasco No. 3.
It was a fair question, but not to Schroeder, who stepped in front of Laird as he tried to answer, pushed Bartley’s KABC microphone, twinkled her hand as if she were spreading fairy dust from a royal throne, smiled a smile that could have chilled Key West and barked, “Let’s go” to an immediately subservient Laird.
Apparently under the delusion she hadn’t already caused enough of a mess, Schroeder, who carries herself as a wealthy version of Patton inside the OCDA and has spent years telling easily disproved lies for Rackauckas, turned back and walked up to Bartley, one of the state’s best TV investigative journalists.
“Lisa, I think, uh, I find you very rude and dishonest, so I want to not talk to you,” she said in a syntax collision before throwing her hand up in the reporter’s face. “Let’s go.”
Wilson later explained he’d walked away from the press conference once again amazed by the lack of DA professionalism.
“I’ve had to watch all the lying and cheating by the DA and sheriff’s department [in Dekraai],” he told the Weekly. “This was another spectacle. It’s sad they think they are above the law and they can operate as they want to.”
You can see Laird’s infamously embarrassing Moxley meltdown on this KABC clip:
R. Scott Moxley’s award-winning investigative journalism has touched nerves for two decades. An angry congressman threatened to break Moxley’s knee caps. A dirty sheriff promised his critical reporting was irrelevant and then landed in prison. The U.S. House of Representatives debated his work. Federal prosecutors credited his stories for the arrest of a doctor who sold fake medicine to dying patients. Moxley has won Journalist of the Year honors at the Los Angeles Press Club; been named Distinguished Journalist of the Year by the LA Society of Professional Journalists; and hailed by two New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing Southern California law enforcement corruption.