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    OC prosecutors, sheriff’s officials mum on how they are fixing jailhouse informant problems
    • October 13, 2023

    Orange County prosecutors and sheriff’s officials won’t talk about how they have reformed the local justice system in the 12 months since a federal investigation confirmed their illegal use of jailhouse informants.

    Aside from saying they are cooperating with each other and federal authorities, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office and the Sheriff’s Department are keeping mum, making it difficult for the public to determine what, if anything, they are doing to implement  recommendations from the U.S. Department of Justice.

    And the DOJ’s civil rights division did not respond to a request for information.

    Silence marks the one-year anniversary of the federal investigation that confirmed prosecutors and law enforcement for years were using a secret cadre of jail informants to illegally coax confessions out of targeted inmates who were not supposed to be questioned without their lawyers present. Authorities also failed to disclose their use of informants to defense attorneys.

    “I don’t understand why (reform efforts) wouldn’t be public information,” said Jodi Balma, a political science professor at Fullerton College. “It’s not hard to say, ‘We’re going to follow the law and everyone who doesn’t will be terminated.’ “

    Orange County Public Defender Martin Schwarz, whose agency has the largest stake in resolving the informant scandal, said he, too, has been kept out of the loop.

    “It’s been frustrating to be in the dark about what steps toward remediation have been taken,” Schwarz said. “It’s important to remember that the report correctly concluded that the informant scandal continues to undermine public confidence in the integrity of the justice system in Orange County.”

    Kimberly Edds, spokesperson for the district attorney’s office, said prosecutors would like to talk about their progress, but can’t because of the confidential nature of the federal investigation.

    “In many instances, our efforts go beyond what the DOJ is recommending as we continue to work with the DOJ and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department to safeguard the Orange County criminal justice system,” Edds said in a prepared statement. “We look forward to being able to tell the complete story of how we worked collaboratively to eradicate the informant issues created by the prior administration and the practices we implemented to prevent them from occurring in the future.”

    The six-year probe by the U.S. Department of Justice concluded last year that the agencies had not gone far enough to correct or prevent the violations and did not have the level of cooperation needed to fix the problems.

    The DOJ report, a rare look by federal civil rights investigators into a prosecutorial agency, recommended an independent panel be formed to review past cases damaged by the improper use of informants.

    It is unclear whether that panel was ever formed and which of the 23 recommendations, if any, have been implemented. The report had recommended that prosecutors and sheriff’s officials create a contract detailing each agency’s responsibilities in using jailhouse informants. The contract also would state prosecutors’ intent not to go forward with any case in which the contract was not followed.

    Another recommendation was that both agencies do a comprehensive review of all cases and convictions in which jailhouse informants were used. A separate analysis by the Public Defender’s Office found that 57 homicide and felony cases were adversely affected by the illegal use of informants, with convictions being dropped, charges dismissed and sentences dramatically reduced.

    Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders also recently accused former prosecutor Ebrahim Baytieh, now a Superior Court judge, of misleading federal investigators about his use of informants.

    Sanders called on federal investigators to revisit their interview with Baytieh as well as the new analysis of affected cases.

    “We have presented very detailed allegations about a former prosecutor’s effort to mislead the DOJ during its investigation, and have also described a large number of previously unidentified affected cases,” Sanders said. “Obviously, these issues have to be addressed.”

    Related links

    Use of snitches unravels 57 murder and other felony cases in Orange County
    Former top OC prosecutor conspired to hide evidence in murder case, defense attorney alleges
    OC prosecutors, sheriff’s deputies violated rights in jailhouse informant scandal, DOJ concludes
    OC judge drops conviction against inmate who ordered ‘hit’ on sheriff’s investigator
    More accusations waged against top Orange County prosecutor in murder retrial

    ​ Orange County Register