In yet another political skirmish within the Orange County Sheriff's Department, acting Sheriff Jack Anderson ordered his staff to delete an e-mail sent to hundreds of deputies inviting them to a fundraiser for Anderson's political rival, the department said Monday.
Anderson said he made the decision last week because he believed the e-mail violated department policy -- and perhaps state law -- that prohibits the use of county resources for political campaigns. The e-mail was sent to the deputies' departmental e-mail accounts.
The president of the Assn. of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs, which sent the e-mail invitations, charged Monday that Anderson's action was based on politics. The e-mail, sent Wednesday morning, informed members that they could attend the fundraiser that night free of charge because the union helped pay for the event.
"It certainly appears to be a political decision in nature, and politics are something we need to take out of the department," association President Wayne Quint Jr. said. "There are 1st Amendment issues here. If we were supporting him, I wonder what he would be doing."
The fundraiser was for retired Lt. Bill Hunt, who, along with Anderson, is among nine finalists the Board of Supervisors is considering to replace former Sheriff Michael S. Carona, who resigned in January to prepare for his upcoming corruption trial. Both Hunt and Anderson have said they intend to run for sheriff in the 2010 election.
Anderson said he decided to quash the e-mails after requesting legal advice from county counsel because the matter involved a political opponent. County lawyers agreed that the e-mail violated county policy, Anderson said.
"I felt an obligation as the acting sheriff to treat it without my own personal bias," he said. "In their opinion, the nature [of the e-mail] was such that it was inappropriate to be sent over a taxpayer-funded e-mail system."
Sheriff's Department staff searched employee in-boxes for the union e-mails and then deleted them, Anderson said.
On Monday, Anderson gave a copy of the e-mail in question to Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas to determine whether it violated state law. But Rackauckas said he might not be able to investigate the matter because some of his staff are also represented by the deputies union and might have a conflict of interest, Anderson said.
Once the question of criminal liability is resolved, Anderson said, the department will conduct an internal investigation to see if any employees were responsible for sending the e-mail and whether they violated department policy by doing so. Many sheriff's employees work for the union.
Hunt was also a rival of Carona's, finishing second to him after a 2006 election campaign in which he argued that the sheriff was corrupt and had allowed politics to dictate how the department was run.
When Carona resigned in January, he appointed Anderson as his replacement.
Hunt said he believed it was inappropriate for the acting sheriff to make a decision regarding the e-mail. The e-mail was sent by the union using nondepartment resources.
"From my perspective," Hunt said, "it's more of the same. They're intimidated by me, and always have been. They're going to use the influence of that office to do whatever they can to defeat me."
Last year, Anderson appeared before the San Clemente City Council in full uniform trying to discourage them from endorsing Hunt for sheriff. The state attorney general found that to be illegal, but did not file charges.
"When Jack Anderson breaks the law, there's nothing wrong with it. It's a mistake," Hunt said. "When anyone related to . . . my campaign does something, it becomes an investigation by the D.A."
A 21-year veteran of the O.C. Sheriff's Department, Hunt was put on administrative leave by Carona the day after he won reelection to a third term for allegedly making political statements that the sheriff said violated department policy. Hunt resigned rather than accept a demotion from chief of police services in San Clemente to patrol officer in Stanton. He now works as a private investigator and is suing the department for alleged violations of his free-speech rights.