Orange County District Attorney Starts Interviewing Staff Regarding Assessor Allegations

Back at the end of March, employees of the Orange County Assessor’s office represented by the Orange County Employees Association disclosed to the Board of Supervisors allegations of mismanagement and possible improper conduct by County Assessor Webster Guillory. In A dramatic video, the employees with their identities concealed to protect them from possible retaliation, accused Guillory o of a “systematic waste of taxpayer dollars” related to a $21 million upgrade of the county’s property tax system.

The allegations have led to an inquiry by the District Attorney’s office. After an intital dispute between Sr. Deputy District Attorney Bill Feccia and OCEA over the appropriatness of how the allegations were made public, theVoice of OC reports that employee interviews have begun.

The Voice of OC reports:

Senior Assistant District Attorney Bill Feccia said late last week that his investigators had met with several employees at the assessor’s office and had productive interviews. More are scheduled for this week, Feccia said.

A decision on whether to initiate a full investigation is expected later this month. As of now, the probe is officially being called an “inquiry.”

District attorney officials were uncomfortable with the method Berardino chose for publicizing employee concerns. They felt that coming out at a public meeting had the potential of chilling witness cooperation.

Berardino replied that the most chilling effect upon investigations involving elected officials was the district attorney’s office and their unwillingness to check into allegations of official corruption.

“There’s a major concern in Orange County about the district attorney’s lack of interest in pursuing cases which involve possible wrongdoing of politicians. So it seemed that the best way to put this issue on the DA’s radar screen was to bring it to light during a public meeting,” Berardino said last week.

Berardino’s public calls for an investigation triggered a letter from the district attorney that was rare in it’s tone. Feccia’s letter essentially put the employees on notice.

“If you desire justice to be done as you claim in press reports,” Feccia wrote on April 21, “you should provide the identity and contact information of these witnesses.”

Read more here.

The DA’s office has had their hands full over the past several months as allegations of misconduct by elected officials have become more frequent. We’ll see how this all turns out. One thing for sure, OC elected officials should be on notice that people are watching what they do, now more than ever.