Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas has fired the man he was grooming to succeed him and, in a departure from what he promised voters earlier this year, will run for reelection in 2014.
Rackauckas had previously announced that 2010 would be his last term. Five years ago, he said the same thing about the 2006 term.
Todd Spitzer, a former assemblyman and Orange County supervisor, was at one point Rackauckas' hand-picked successor and has worked at the prosecutor's office since last year, moving between assignments apparently to get on-the-job experience.
Spitzer has made no secret of his desire to become district attorney and was prepared to run against Rackauckas, but he backed off when the district attorney said he would bring him aboard and probably support his candidacy in 2014.
"What changed was the firing of Todd," said Rackauckas' chief of staff, Susan Kang Schroeder. "He was hoping to hand off the office to someone he trusted, and now circumstances have changed."
Spitzer says he was fired for political reasons, most likely to make room for Schroeder to run for district attorney herself.
Schroeder is married to Michael Schroeder, the former chairman of the California Republican Party and a longtime confidant to Rackauckas and former Orange County Sheriff Michael S. Carona, who resigned and is now free on appeal in a public corruption case.
Schroeder, reached in Hawaii last week, denied that she was running for district attorney. She said Rackauckas would serve as district attorney as long as he wants to continue seeking it.
She would not give specifics on why Spitzer was let go — a move the office is calling a "separation."
"Tony doesn't need a reason why [Spitzer] was separated, because he's an at-will employee," she said. "We serve at the pleasure of the district attorney, and he can decide if he wants to keep us or not."
But a statement released last week by Public Administrator/Guardian John Williams said that an assistant district attorney recently contacted his office seeking information to which he was not entitled. The statement identified the attorney only as a former assemblyman and county supervisor.
"This conduct is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated," the statement read. "I forwarded this information regarding his conduct to his agency, and we hope the district attorney's office handles this matter in an appropriate manner."
The statement stems from an incident in which Spitzer called the guardian's office on behalf of a woman regarding an investigation.
In a statement on his Facebook page, Spitzer talks about alleged abuses at the district attorney's office and briefly addresses his contact with the guardian's office: "I want you all to know that if seeking justice on behalf of OC citizens is grounds for dismissal, I will gladly accept the 'consequence' every time," he said.