Ex-Santa Ana councilman calls D.A. biased in sexual assault case
An attorney for Carlos Bustamante has asked the Orange County district attorney’s office to recuse itself from the sexual assault and battery case against the former councilman and county executive because of a conflict of interest and bias, according to court documents.
Bustamante, who served on the Santa Ana City Council until 2012 and was a former county executive in the Public Works Department, is facing charges of false imprisonment and sexually assaulting at least seven women over an eight-year period.
The arrest led to the departure of several top-ranking county executives, including Chief Executive Tom Mauk.
In July, Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas held a news conference to describe the charges against Bustamante. He said Bustamante would corner the women, try to hug and kiss them on the neck or mouth, and then touch them inappropriately. In some encounters, Rackauckas said, Bustamante would expose himself and masturbate in their presence.
But according to a motion filed by defense attorney James Riddet this week, some of the statements Rackauckas made were inflammatory and false.
The motion says Rackauckas has a bias and a conflict of interest that will prevent Bustamante, who has pleaded not guilty, from getting a fair trial.
Susan Kang Schroeder, chief of staff for the district attorney's office, said the case against Bustamante has been handled no differently that those against other defendants.
Riddet wrote that in reviewing the evidence against Bustamante, many of the charges were a “significant over-filing of what should only be, if anything, a misdemeanor,” according to the filing.
Riddet cited a video of Bustamante’s arrest that was distributed to the media in July 2012. The defense attorney described the video as a “perp walk.”
Riddet said the prosecutor made other comments that were “totally false.”
He disputed the district attorney’s allegations that Bustamante threatened the employment of the women if they “did not go along with what he wanted,” and that the former councilman offered promotions in return for sexual favors.
Riddet also cited the tumultuous relationship between Bustamante and Claudia Alvarez, a Santa Ana City Council colleague and deputy district attorney.
He called Alvarez a “Bustamante political enemy” and said she was close to Rackauckas, as evidenced by his 2008 endorsement of Alvarez for the City Council.
Schroeder said that many cases involving public figures draw a motion to recuse the district attorney’s office.
She said the media comments were no different than those of any other defendant, and that Alvarez has not had any contact with the case.
“If anything,” she said, “Rackauckas is extremely measured in the way he describes the alleged acts that occurred.”
The California attorney general’s office is expected to file a response to the motion on Feb. 8.
-- Nicole Santa Cruz
Photo: Image from video of Carlos Bustamante's arrest. Credit: Los Angeles Times.