SANTA ANA (CNS) - Orange County Black civil rights leaders today criticized the way Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer handles cases against minority defendants as the head of the state NAACP reiterated his call for the county's top prosecutor to resign.
Spitzer has come under fire for racially polarized comments he made in internal office deliberations on whether to seek the death penalty against a Black defendant charged with two murders in Newport Beach as well as using racial slurs while quoting defendants in hate crime cases as he spoke to a group of attorneys in a video that surfaced recently.
Spitzer used a racial slur while addressing the Iranian Bar Association in November 2019 as he recounted what an alleged white supremacist said as he allegedly attacked a Black pregnant woman in Fullerton.
Spitzer has defended the use of the word, noting he was quoting what the defendant is accused of saying as he explained how he battled a judge who offered the defendant a plea bargain Spitzer found to be too lenient.
``Using such racist language makes others believe it is OK, perpetuating the cycle of racism and violence,'' said Rick Callender, president of the state's chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
``Spitzer's word choice was disgusting, tone deaf and ultimately harmful to the Black community,'' Callender said. ``It is clear Spitzer is not a true ally to the Black community and the (state NAACP) is calling for his immediate resignation.''
In a statement, Spitzer said, ``As the elected district attorney, I have worked tirelessly to ensure justice is pursued in a fair and equitable manner regardless of race, origin, or religion.
``The Orange County Chapter of the NAACP stood by my side along with many other likeminded members of our community as I successfully fought a ridiculously lenient sentence for a white supremacist who attacked a pregnant Black woman and threatened to kill her baby.
``Through multiple meetings on a variety of cases and issues within our community, Mr. (Wellington) Bennett and Mr. (David) Drakeford know better than most my sincere commitment to fighting for equal justice in Orange County.
``As prosecutors we do not determine who is arrested in this county, but we do review each case thoroughly and fairly to determine whether the facts of a case can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law. The practice of law relies on the facts and the law and only the facts and the law.''
Drakeford, the criminal justice committee chairman of the Orange County chapter of the NAACP, said the case Spitzer cites was an isolated one, but there are several others in which his office has ``over charged'' Black defendants and continued prosecuting despite exculpatory evidence.
``He says he reviews cases and has evidence to go forward, but he is lying,'' Drakeford said.
Drakeford cited one case in which a defendant took a plea deal for a misdemeanor just to get it over with.
The defendant was charged with rape, attempted rape and kidnapping and ``fast forward four years and over $200,000 in court costs they said, `OK, if you plead guilty to one misdemeanor we'll drop those charges,''' Drakeford said.
``They didn't have the evidence to go forward with it. I told him to not plead guilty to that but he said he needed to get this over with.'' Spitzer has been criticized for saying in the double murder case in Newport Beach that he knew Black men who dated white women to elevate their status, pointing to radio host Larry Elder as an example
``That's almost the opposite of what I see,'' Drakeford said. ``Especially in the sports industry. They're not trying to improve their status. The girls are trying to improve theirs.''
Drakeford said he believes that police and prosecutors target Black defendants who date women who are white or Latina.
Attorney Bryan Chehock of San Clemente, the latest entrant in the race for district attorney, said he became a candidate because he believes the office has become too politicized.
``I obviously don't know about individual cases, but I view the justice system as a four-legged stool,'' Chehok said, referring to prosecutors, defense attorneys, the state bar and judges.
``You have to have confidence in all four,'' Chehok said. ``The shame is that I really think Mr. Spitzer is doing damage to the public confidence in the District Attorney's Office to be fair arbiter of justice and you can't have this.
``This system doesn't work if the public does not believe it works.''
Chehock noted how Spitzer bragged to the Iranian Bar Association how he intimidated the judge handling the case of the defendant charged with attacking a Black woman to increase the punishment in the plea deal.
``He also attacks judges,'' Chehock said. ``The justice system is bigger than any one case and when these actions are taken it demeans the entire process... Particularly this office cannot be treated like any political office.''
Chehock said he is a not a member of any political party and does not plan to fundraise because he wants to avoid the appearance of political influence.