Karen Schatzle began her law enforcement career as a probation officer while attending law school and supporting her young children until she landed a prosecutor job inside the Orange County district attorney’s office (OCDA).
Schatzle spent years climbing steadily through the ranks, winning criminal trials in the sexual assault unit and earning superlative-loaded performance evaluations that put her in the upper echelons of Tony Rackauckas’ OCDA as a senior deputy DA.
Both have left the powerful agency amid controversy. After 20 years on the job, Rackauckas found himself soundly defeated by Todd Spitzer in last November’s elections. Schatzle retired reluctantly in late March.
But the two are how battling inside the Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse in Santa Ana, where Schatzle is accusing her ex-boss and his ex-hatchet OCDA staffer, Susan Kang Schroeder, of illegally sabotaging her career.
Schatzle says she is a victim of revenge for her 2016 electoral challenge to Scott Steiner, who wasn’t just a former OCDA prosecutor and Rackauckas/Schroeder pal.
While married, Steiner had been caught having sex in his chambers with Chapman University law school students; trying to finagle a deputy DA job for one of the lovers; and failing to recuse himself from a case involving a personal friend, the California Commission on Judicial Performance found in 2014.
“I’m running for superior court judge to restore integrity to the seat and ensure that Orange County’s judicial system is fair and accessible to everyone,” Schatzle explained in 2015.
That statement caused Schroeder to advise Schatzle that “your career will be ruined” and another Rackauckas aide, Jaime Coulter, said she would be demoted, reassigned to a DA outpost office and given chores usually handled by entry-level prosecutors, according to the lawsuit.
After Steiner defeated her with the help of Rackauckas and the local deputies’ union, Schatzle—who’d been handling major felonies cases for years—was transferred to work at a misdemeanor-heavy West Court branch in Orange County’s Little Saigon region.
There, she says she found herself humiliated and laughed at as she was tasked with pushing a document delivery cart around the courthouse.
It’s the stance of Rackauckas, who has been slammed for gross mismanagement over the years, and Norman Watkins, his crafty taxpayer-funded defense attorney, that the plaintiff has embellished little if any victimization, in part, because she didn’t suffer any corresponding pay or job title loss.
In today testimony and with a solemn-faced Rackauckas watching, Watkins repeatedly tried to rattle Schatzle on her version of events.
“I feel I was sent to West Court because I ran against Scott Steiner,” she told the jury. “[I] had a career [as a prosecutor] dealing with the worst of the worst and then [I] pretty much got demoted. [Rackauckas] took away the passion, the heart of what I did.”
Watkins repeatedly demanded to know why Schatzle hadn’t created a massive paper trail documenting her treatment from the outset; he even hinted she wasn’t skilled in the courthouse by asking her how many cases she tried.
“Mr. Watkins, I feel like you’re attacking me,” she said.
The attorney kept pressing, demanding she point to any OCDA document supportive of her claims.
“I want to hold [Rackauckas] accountable for what he did to me,” a frustrated and weeping Schatzle said. “I don’t think he should be able to do what he did—not just to me, but to anybody . . . He just decided that because I had opposed his friend, he’d ruin my career.”
Jurors are expected to hear testimony into next week inside U.S. District Court Judge Andrew J. Guilford’s courtroom.
CNN-featured investigative reporter R. Scott 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; obtained one of the last exclusive prison interviews with Charles Manson disciple Susan Atkins; won inclusion in Jeffrey Toobin’s The Best American Crime Reporting for his coverage of a white supremacist’s senseless murder of a beloved Vietnamese refugee; launched multi-year probes that resulted in the FBI arrests and convictions of the top three ranking members of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department; and gained praise from New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing entrenched Southern California law enforcement corruption.