Judge rips OC sheriff, DA for not turning over files

Scott Dekraai, left, with his lawyer Scott Sanders.
Scott Dekraai, left, with his lawyer Scott Sanders.
AP Photo/Los Angeles Times, Mark Boster, Pool

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A judge in Orange County Friday ripped into the District Attorney's and Sheriff’s offices for failing to produce court-ordered records related to jailhouse informants in the Scott Dekraai case and others, months after he ordered them to do so. 

Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals said his patience is running out, and he suggested that Sheriff Sandra Hutchens is deliberately withholding the information. 

"It seems as if the sheriff believes she can have documents and decide whether she’s going to hand them over," he said. "That seems to be the delay here, that’s the way it seems to me."

At issue are a number of jailhouse records that the sheriff’s office and the DA say they can’t find. Those documents could shed more light on the use of an illegal network of informants planted in jail cells to gather information. 

The DA’s office said it’s still searching through computer files to find the missing information.

One set of records, called the Special Handling Log, has been turned over to the judge, and he is redacting some of those files before turning them over to the public defender. That will likely happen at the next court date on Nov. 10.

That set of records, as well as another set of logs that have gone missing, could contradict court testimony by a number of law enforcement officials, the judge said.

"There is information in those logs, it doesn’t take much imagination to see it impeaching testimony we’ve already heard," Goethals said.

The judge learned of the missing records while awaiting a federal court's ruling on the state Attorney General's appeal of Goethal's March 2015 decision to remove the DA's office from the Dekraai case over the use of a jailhouse informant planted to extract information from the defendant.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that using an informant in that way violates the defendant's Sixth Amendment right to legal representation and his due process rights under the 14th Amendment.

Dekraai pleaded guilty in Oct. 2014 to eight counts of first-degree murder for the 2011 slayings of his ex-wife and seven others at a Seal Beach hair salon. Goethals can't move forward with the penalty phase of Dekraai's case until the appellate court issues its ruling.

During Friday's hearing, Dekraii's lawyer Scott Sanders said in an age in which almost all records are computerized, it should be pretty simple to access a few files.

"There is a conspiracy of silence here," Sanders said. "It’s in a computer document somewhere. It’s been too long." He urged the judge to order the missing documents to be delivered immediately.

"Bring it in now or have someone explain this," said Sanders, "rather than sitting here pretending they’re in some mystery they can’t unravel. It’s not a mystery. They’re sitting here pretending they don’t know."

The records being released Nov. 10 and the ones that are missing could help Sanders’ client. But the possible manipulation and cover-up of the law goes far beyond this trial, he said.

"We still don't know the extent of the deception," he said. "And we have every reason to believe it's a lot deeper and more serious than even we could have imagined."

Previous disclosures about the improper use of jailhouse informants have affected several Orange County criminal cases, and defense attorneys are challenging the outcomes of many others.