Orange County will pay a local investigative news publication more than $121,000 in legal fees it spent fighting to obtain documents Supervisor Todd Spitzer wrote about his 2015 citizen’s arrest of an evangelist, which the county attempted to withhold from the public.
County supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday, Aug. 8, to approve the settlement, nearly three months after a superior court judge ordered the release a draft op-ed and corresponding emails that Spitzer wrote about the incident. The county did not reveal the settlement total, but Voice of OC later announced the amount it had been reimbursed.
“It’s sad that you have to spend two years in court and it costs taxpayers close to a quarter-million dollars – when you add the county’s (own) legal costs – to keep (private) a series of frankly straightforward documents that are clearly public,” Voice of OC Publisher Norberto Santana said. “I’ve never seen a more politically driven legal strategy in my life.”
County attorneys had argued that the records should not be released because they were protected by a provision that allows governments to withhold some draft documents. The judge disagreed, saying the county didn’t prove that its concerns outweighed the public’s interest in seeing the emails.
Spitzer made his citizen’s arrest of Jeovany Castellano in April 2015 inside a Wahoo’s Fish Taco restaurant in Foothill Ranch after the man approached the supervisor inside the restaurant and began talking about the Bible. Spitzer later said he became nervous with Castellano’s behavior because the supervisor thought the man kept looking at a knife on the table and perceived him to be threatening. Spitzer went to his car, retrieved his handgun and handcuffs, detained Castellano, called 911 and waited for sheriff’s deputies to arrive. No charges were filed against Castellano, and he was released.
Following the judge’s May ruling, Spitzer released the op-ed and emails. In the op-ed, Spitzer described the incident from his perspective and described three other incidents in which he said he intervened to stop a crime or help a victim. Accompanying the documents, Spitzer released another statement defending his actions and saying he decided not to publish the op-ed because it made assumptions about Castellano’s mental state, which “could expose the county to legal liability.”
“I took appropriate caution as a situation developed that was threatening to both to me…