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Orange County’s Todd Spitzer Becomes Latest Target of a National Movement To Replace DA’s

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Orange County has become the latest county in a nationwide movement to replace their district attorneys, following the announcement that former prosecutor Peter Hardin would be running to unseat current District Attorney Todd Spitzer on March 16.

Hardin, a self-described progressive, is running on a platform of reform that emphasizes reducing mass incarceration and combating racial disparities in the justice system. 

This contest comes as several other major counties across the country, including the City of Philadelphia and Los Angeles, have seen trends favoring more liberal candidates.

Hardin argues that Spitzer, who ran on a similar platform for criminal justice reform in 2018 has yet to take any action to make his claims a reality.

“The hypocrisy of Todd Spitzer is extraordinary… He lays out this [platform] of reform, yet makes [drug offenses] the number one most prosecuted crime,” Hardin said to the Voice of OC.

Constituents have mirrored Hardin’s concerns, stating that they have lost faith in Spitzer’s commitment to reform within the office and in his role as district attorney. 

“For Todd it’s all smoke in mirrors. He acts [like he cares] but really only [is] interested in what it does for him,”  Paul Wilson, a widower who lost his wife to the 2011 mass shooting in Seal Beach, said to the Voice of OC earlier this year.

Spitzer has been the subject of multiple scandals over the last couple of months, including multiple sexual harassment lawsuits within his office and collusion allegations from a former investigator within the Orange County District Attorney’s (OCDA) office that claims Spitzer attempted to dismiss a series of sexual assault charges against a Newport Beach physician and his girlfriend. There was also an evidence booking scandal that resulted in the office dropping or reducing charges in 67 cases

“What Todd Spitzer has done is cherry pick a few selected officers to punish so that he can grab the headline and claim that he’s a reformer,” Hardin said in an interview with LAist.

Hardin, who is also a former marine and prosecutor emphasizes the need for progressive change within the office. 

“Well, to put it simply, affluent kids go to rehab and other folks, who happen to be people of color, go to juvenile hall or jail. So one thing I really want to work towards is ending punishment for low-level nonviolent offenses. Those have swept up a disproportionate number of folks from our minority communities into the system as well. It’s the product of a system of racial injustice in this country, the roots of which go so deep,” Hardin stated in an interview with LAist.

Critics of progressive criminal justice reform have pointed to George Gascón — who was recently elected as District Attorney in Los Angeles County — to argue that progressive changes make communities, particularly those of color, less safe by going easier on violent crime. 

Spitzer, who has openly slammed the new DA’s methods, asserted that Hardin would bring a similar prosecution style to Orange County should he be elected.

“When LA county is perceived as soft on crime, criminals are empowered to commit crimes at a much higher rate and so there is a huge effect [on Orange County],” Spitzer said of Gascón in a radio interview. “What happens is people think ‘Okay, we did it in Los Angeles, we did it in San Francisco, now let’s take this hugely failed social experiment — which is ruining our communities — [and implement it here]’ … this has a direct and utter effect on all of us in this region.”

According to his campaign website, Hardin is more concerned with combating systemic mass incarceration by addressing the underlying issues that lead to repeat behavior, including addressing mental health, addiction, PTSD, homelessness and eliminating prolonged sentences for low level offenses.

“In perpetuating a broken system that leads to mass incarceration, we waste billions in taxpayer dollars and siphon funds away from things we know reduce crime — strong public school education, after school programs and supervision, mental health service, drug and alcohol counseling,” Hardin said in the press conference announcing his run. “We punish people time and again for minor non-violent offenses, this doesn’t fix the underlying issues … it backfires, and when it backfires it eliminates housing and employment opportunities, creating a cycle that leads from the streets to the prison and right back out on the street.”

Hardin has seemingly garnered a wide array of support, raising over $200,000 donations in the first month of his campaign. Spitzer, who is known as a prolific fundraiser, reportedly also has about $200,000 in campaign funds. 

Only Hardin and Spitzer have announced their intent to run for District Attorney as of April 29. However, more can sign up before the county elections in 2022.

Autumn Martin is a City News Intern for the spring 2021 quarter. She can be reached at autumnjm@uci.edu.