Criminal Justice

Meet the California public defender who is 'shaking the Orange County legal system to its bedrock'

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A longtime public defender in California known for his lengthy “eye bleeder” motions relied on his dogged determination to unearth what he says is a secret, orchestrated effort by police to place jailhouse informants near high-value defendants in Orange County.

The lawyer, Scott Sanders, “is shaking the Orange County legal system to its bedrock,” the Orange County Register reports in a profile of the lawyer who filed a 505-page motion detailing his allegations in the prosecution of Scott Dekraai, who pleaded guilty to a mass shooting and is awaiting a capital sentencing hearing.

Sanders revealed that informants received reduced sentences or cash for getting other defendants to reveal incriminating evidence, without judges or defendants being told of the arrangement, according to a New York Times op-ed. The sheriff’s department maintained a secret computer file on where the informants were placed, he alleged.

Judge Thomas Goethals booted the entire Orange County District Attorney’s office from Dekraai’s case after holding hearings on Dekraai’s motion. The Times is calling for a Justice Department investigation of the informant issue.

The Orange County Register profile says Sanders is “engaging and likable” outside the courtroom, and “energetic, excitable” and “tightly wound” inside the courtroom. “He displays an encyclopedic knowledge of cases past and present, and wields facts with cutting precision,” the story says. “He slices quickly through discrepancies, growing indignant when he is attacked.”

Not everyone is a fan. Mark Geller, a senior deputy district attorney who is among those facing accusations by Sanders, told the Register he found 30 inaccuracies in the Dekraai motion. Sanders engaged in “character assassination” and made “glaring errors,” Geller said. “Scott Sanders shouldn’t even be a lawyer based on the tactics he’s engaged.”

Sanders gave a written response to the Orange County Register. A “focus on self-vindication instead of justice is the one consistent theme in the prosecution’s response” to his work, Sanders said. “As long as that remains the situation the criminal justice system in this county will remain unfair.”

Hat tip to the Marshall Project.

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