SANTA ANA (CNS) – Former Santa Ana City Councilman Carlos Bustamante’s attorney is working to have sex charges against his client thrown out, and failing that objective, wants a judge to take Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas off the case.
Attorney James Riddet filed a motion Monday to recuse Rackauckas’ office from prosecuting the defendant, who is accused of sexually assaulting seven women while he was an Orange County Public Works Department executive.
In July, Riddet filed a motion to dismiss the charges against his client, alleging that Orange County prosecutors have violated the California Rules of Professional Conduct by making “scurrilous comments” about Bustamante.
Riddet is re-alleging that same claim in the motion filed Monday, but he is also pushing for Rackauckas’ office to be taken off the case based on “overfiling of charges” and the “hostile” relationship between Bustamante and former Santa Ana City Councilwoman Claudia Alvarez, who has enjoyed the political support of the top prosecutor in the past.
Alvarez, who is an Orange County deputy district attorney, finished her term on the City Council last year and went on to be elected to the Rancho Santiago Community College District board.
“There’s been a great deal of hostility between my client and a deputy district attorney who was a member of the Santa Ana City Council,” Riddet said, adding Alvarez was endorsed for the City Council by Rackauckas, who performed her swearing-in for the college board.
Today’s scheduled hearing on the motion to dismiss charges against Bustamante was reset for Feb. 28, and a preliminary hearing scheduled for April 2.
When Bustamante was arrested last July on his way to a Santa Ana City Council meeting, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office videotaped him being taken into custody. The footage appeared on multiple televised news reports. Riddet said he had called prosecutors before his client’s arrest and asked if the councilman could surrender to authorities.
Riddet also complained about comments Rackauckas made about Bustamante, including calling the defendant a “wolf.”
Rackauckas’ chief of staff, Susan Kang Schroeder, defended the way Bustamante was arrested, noting the publicity yielded more tips from witnesses and that it is routinely done. Some of the witnesses had been reluctant to come forward for fear of political retribution, she said.
“Frankly, the descriptions (of the allegations) the District Attorney gave were as measured as possible and balanced upon informing the public,” Schroeder said. “Mr. Bustamante shouldn’t feel he should be treated better than any other defendant who is similarly situated.”
Other defendants’ arrests in high-profile cases have been videotaped, Schroeder said.
“Most defendants who are public figures run this (recusal) motion,” she said. “It’s the routine playbook for a public figure — they want the District Attorney off the case.”
Schroeder also shrugged off any suggestion that Alvarez’s interactions with Bustamante while they were on the City Council influenced the District Attorney’s case.
“All of the filing decisions were made by deputy district attorneys and supervisors based upon the evidence that was gathered,” Schroeder said. “There was no influence or contact with the city of Santa Ana.”
Bustamante is accused of sexually assaulting seven women, with whom he worked while he was an executive with the Orange County Public Works Department, between 2003 and last year.
Bustamante is charged with six counts of false imprisonment, three counts of assault with the intent to commit a sexual offense and one count each of stalking, attempted sexual battery by restraint and grand theft by false pretense. The grand theft charge stems from expense reports he submitted after attending a 2 1/2-week program in Boston, prosecutors said.
He also faces one misdemeanor count each of battery, assault, sexual battery and attempted sexual battery. The charges include sentence-enhancing allegations of committing the offenses as a result of sexual compulsion and for the purpose of sexual gratification.
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