A former county executive accused of cornering women in his office and sexually assaulting them has sought to have the entire District Attorney’s Office disqualified from trying his case.
Carlos Bustamante argued in court papers filed this week that District Attorney Tony Rackauckas had been “assassinating” his character in the media and could not lead a fair prosecution. He suggested, through his attorney, that his behavior amounted to nothing more than a misdemeanor crime.
Bustamante faces 16 criminal charges, most of them felonies. He is accused of sexually assaulting seven women who worked for him in the county Public Works department. Bustamante also was a Santa Ana councilman when he was arrested in July.
He argued in his latest court filing that the District Attorney’s Office has an “ax to grind” against him that means he cannot get a fair trial. It asks a judge to take the unusual but not unheard-of step of removing the entire office from the case, in which case the state Attorney General’s Office would take over.
Rackauckas has described his office’s handling of the case as “ethical and proper.” He said shortly after Bustamante’s arrest that he detailed the case in public because it involved a public official and allegations of crimes committed in a public office.
“What we did in that case is no different from what we do” in other high-profile cases, said Susan Kang Schroeder, the chief of staff of the District Attorney’s Office. “Obviously,” she added, “there’s a lot of public interest in this case.”
A video camera captured Bustamante after his arrest, hands cuffed behind his back. His attorney, James Riddet, has argued that the District Attorney’s Office’s release of that video to the media, as well as “extremely inflammatory comments” from Rackauckas, should invalidate the case.
Riddet also accused the office of having a conflict of interest, because a deputy district attorney who served alongside Bustamante on the Santa Ana council occasionally sparred with him. Schroeder said the decision to file charges had nothing to do with Santa Ana politics; the other attorney is not handling the case against Bustamante, court records show.
The District Attorney’s Office “clearly over-filed (criminal charges) in order to get the maximum prejudice in the media,” Riddet wrote in his motion to have the office disqualified from the case. Bustamante, he said in an interview, “was giving people hugs, stuff like that. Hardly felony conduct.”
Riddet wrote in his court filing that Bustamante’s actions “should only be, if anything, a misdemeanor.” But he declined in an interview to specify what misdemeanor charge that would be.
Bustamante is charged with false imprisonment, assault with the intent to commit a sexual offense, stalking, attempted sexual battery and grand theft, all felonies. He also faces misdemeanor charges of sexual battery, attempted sexual battery, assault and battery. He has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges.
By DOUG IRVING/ THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
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