Originally posted 11:39 p.m. April 10, 2014. Edited to correct CNS reporting error.
By PAUL ANDERSON
City News Service
In an unusual move, the chief of staff for Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas took the stand today to defend her public comments related to delays in the trial of the man accused in the worst mass killing in Orange County history.
Susan Kang Schroeder was subpoenaed by attorneys representing Scott Evans Dekraai to explain why she told a reporter that the defendant's legal representatives were engaging in stalling tactics. Part of Schroeder's duties involve overseeing Rackauckas' media information office.
Dekraa's public defender, Scott Sanders, questioned Schroeder about comments she made to City News Service that were published in the Long Beach Press Telegram and a Patch website.
The questioning came during another in a series of hearings dating back to March 18 related to Sanders' 500-plus-page motion seeking to get Rackauckas' office removed from the case and the death penalty lifted as an option.
The motion alleges widespread government misconduct in the handling of jailhouse informants and the way they sought evidence against other inmates such as Dekraai.
Sanders accuses the government of violating the constitutional rights of defendants and claims that prosecutors at times withheld evidence from defense attorneys and that at least one informant perjured himself while testifying for prosecutors.
Sanders focused much of his questioning around Schroeder's comment about the motion, "It's on the defense attorney checklist of things to do now... It's something that happens all the time. They'll lose and we'll do the trial."
Schroeder acknowledged that she has not fully read Sanders' motion and based her comments on Assistant District Attorney Dan Wagner's observations to her about the legal challenge. Wagner is the lead prosecutor on Dekraai's case.
"My comments reflected Mr. Wagner's knowledge of the case," Schroeder said. "He's one of the best and most well-respected prosecutors in our office... I take what he says to the bank."
Wagner told Schroeder he was "confident" the defense attorneys would fail, she testified.
Schroeder said she trusted the other prosecutors on the case.
"I've worked with these lawyers for a very long time," Schroeder testified. "I've seen them really do what's in the best interests of justice... I've seen them do the right thing over and over again."
Sanders asked Schroeder why she would just read the motion so she could better comment on it.
"I have a lot of work I need to engage in every day," Schroeder replied. "I really haven't had the time to look through the allegations because I don't believe them to be meritorious."
Sanders also noted in his questioning that Wagner has acknowledged in recent testimony that mistakes were made in the exchange of evidence between attorneys in the cases cited in Sanders' motion.
When asked if Schroeder had discussed that with Wagner, the chief of staff said, "I don't believe I've had a conversation with Mr. Wagner recently" about the hearings.
Sanders also questioned Schroeder's comment about the defense's "delay tactics" to City News Service published in the Los Alamitos/Seal Beach Patch in October about a meeting prosecutors had with victims' family members frustrated about the pace of the legal proceedings against Dekraai.
Sanders asked Schroeder if those types of comments might negatively affect a jury pool and the public in general.
"I don't see how 'delay tactics' is necessarily disparaging to the defense," Schroeder replied.
"So is it your perspective the general public will say, 'Good job, keep it up,' " Sanders scoffingly replied.
"I haven't done any polling, but the public believes defense attorneys delay cases in the best interests of their clients," Schroeder said.
Under questioning from prosecutor Howard Gundy, Schroeder said she sees it as "part of the adversarial process" in criminal cases.
The hearings may resume April 21.