Another left-wing prosecutor is running for office, but this time it’s in traditionally conservative Orange County, California, rather than a liberal big city.
The election pitting Democratic criminal lawyer Pete Hardin against Republican District Attorney Todd Spitzer is scheduled for June. Already full of intrigue and accusations, the race will help define the role of district attorneys, which is under attack by liberals across the nation.
The winner of the Orange County race will oversee the sixth-largest prosecutorial office in the U.S., with a $150 million annual budget and some 900 employees.
Orange County has long been viewed as a Republican stronghold but has become more purple recently. County voters helped Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, win his recall election last year.
The candidates for district attorney are accusing each other of scandal.
Mr. Hardin left the Marine Corps and the Orange County district attorney’s office under a cloud, according to the Spitzer campaign and records reviewed by The Orange County Register. The newspaper reported that Mr. Hardin received accolades for his military service but an “honorable discharge for unacceptable conduct.”
Mr. Hardin left the Orange County district attorney’s office in 2015 after he was accused of behaving inappropriately with female witnesses and defendants, according to a memo from his supervisor first reported this week by the Washington Examiner.
“Hardin was developing a reputation for being a womanizer and there was a perception that this may be impacting the way in which he handles cases,” said the memo from Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Contini. “I was given an example of a couple of cases where Peter may have ‘crossed the line.’”
Mr. Hardin stepped down two months after the memo was written, his resignation letter shows.
The misconduct accusation should disqualify Mr. Hardin from holding the top prosecutorial position, Mr. Spitzer said.
“As if Pete Hardin’s woke, pro-criminal agenda wasn’t bad enough, it turns out he’s a predator, too,” said Mr. Spitzer, urging Mr. Hardin to quit his campaign. “How can Hardin be trusted to prosecute defendants when he’s trying to date them?”
The memo, which was prompted by an anonymous complaint, did not recommend harsh discipline against Mr. Hardin and concluded that “no further investigation is warranted.”
In one case, Ms. Contini said, she was not offended by Mr. Hardin’s conduct. In another, the parties involved filed no formal complaints.
Meanwhile, the Hardin campaign portrays Mr. Spitzer as a walking advertisement for scandalous politics. It says he shows favoritism toward friends in the office and accuses him of improper behavior with co-workers.
A 2011 shooting survivor who supported Mr. Spitzer when he took office in 2019 is now backing Mr. Hardin, saying Mr. Spitzer failed to deliver on promises to clean up the DA’s office.
For all the talk of law and order, more blood has been shed on Mr. Spitzer’s watch, the Hardin campaign said. California records show homicides have risen 20% since Mr. Spitzer took office in 2018. Although 2021 figures are not available, Orange County reported 59 homicides in 2020, up from 49 in 2018.
The campaign will not be run on the cheap. Mr. Spitzer said he spent some $1.5 million on his 2018 campaign and plans to spend a similar sum this time.
PACs funded almost exclusively by liberal billionaire George Soros have not cropped up in the Orange County race, but the specter of left-wing money is an issue. In a speech to supporters, Mr. Hardin indicated he may be flush with liberal PAC cash.
“There are these groups across the country that are interested in criminal justice reform — Real Justice PAC, Smart Justice California, Courage California,” Mr. Hardin said in an audio clip that the Spitzer campaign published. “I’ve met with all of them, developed relationships with all of them. They’re extremely interested in this campaign.
“Some of them are big PACs that can put a lot of money into a race,” he said. “You know, if we can raise a million dollars, great. We’ll do everything we can. But that might be chump change compared to what some of these outside groups can bring in.”
Like other left-wing prosecutors, Mr. Hardin is pledging to not seek the death penalty, to eliminate cash bail, to refuse to charge juveniles as adults and to avoid any sort of enhancement when filing charges or seeking sentences. The approach is needed to break a cycle of racist criminal justice policies that have led to incarcerations of too many Black men, according to the liberal vision.
Violent crime and general lawlessness have increased sharply in all the cities where liberal district attorneys have taken power. Scores of veteran prosecutors have been fired, and relationships between DA offices and police departments have become increasingly hostile.
To get an idea of what Mr. Hardin would bring to Orange County, voters can look next door to Los Angeles County, Mr. Spitzer said. There, District Attorney George Gascon is facing a recall effort 13 months into his first term.
Critics say Mr. Gascon is indifferent to crime victims. His deputy district attorneys say in a lawsuit that his refusal to file any enhancements violates state law.
At least 786 people have been killed in the county in the past 12 months, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The Hardin campaign says a facile comparison between the Democrat’s platform and Mr. Gascon’s policies is misleading. Mr. Hardin has not promised to forgo enhancements in charging and sentencing, the campaign said, but a more case-by-case approach is superior to robotically sentencing young men to excessive prison terms.
This report has been updated to include the Spitzer campaign’s records on Mr. Hardin’s work history and responses from the Hardin campaign.