DA's office: Use "Extreme Caution" with LA Times reporter

The on again, off again war between the Los Angeles Times and the Orange County District Attorney's media affairs office is on again. Today, DA spokeswoman Susan Kang Schroeder sent an agencywide email "warning" staff about Times investigative reporter Christine Hanley. Schroeder claims that Hanley is "unethical," "reckless," "harasses people and their families," and wastes taxpayers dollars by filing "frivolous" public records requests. She advised prosecutors to use "extreme caution" with the veteran reporter.

The email comes months after Hanley began research for an indepth profile on Schroeder and her husband, Orange County GOP heavyweight Michael J. Schroeder, an insurance company owner and top adviser to both DA Tony Rackauckas and Sheriff Mike Carona. (He is also the former chairman of the California Republican Party and close pals with Congressman Dana Rohrabacher.) The Schroeders have said they would not cooperate for any article written by Hanley.

At the time of this posting, Hanley said she was preparing a formal response. (Check this website for any updates.) However, a Times OC source told the Weekly that Schroeder's email is "ridiculous and an obvious preemptive strike." Other sources at the paper claim that the GOP power couple has complained to Times management about Hanley and the possibility of a hostile profile for more than six months.

Here's a copy of the Schroeder warning:

----- Original Message -----
From: Schroeder, Susan
To: AllStaff@da.ocgov.com
Sent: Tue Sep 26 12:02:00 2006
Subject: WARNING -- UNETHICAL LA TIMES REPORTER CHRISTINE HANLEY

Dear colleagues:

We are lucky in Orange County because the Orange County press corps, for the most part, sets the gold standard. They are ethical, hardworking people who have an important job to do. The media often helps us find witnesses, solve crimes, and help inform the public that justice is done.

Unfortunately, in every profession there are bad apples. Christine Hanley is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times. She was recently assigned to cover our office. She used to cover our office four years ago. She has engaged in repeated unethical behavior including the manufacturing of facts. She is reckless and does not care about the truth. She has been repeatedly confronted about her false stories. She refuses to change.

You should exercise extreme caution in all contacts with her. Because of her past unethical practices, some attorneys in our office refuse to talk with her. I have listed a few of her "greatest hits." I have plenty more examples in greater detail. If you would like to learn more, please feel free to contact me.

In the interest of fairness and balance, I gave Ms. Hanley the opportunity to respond to the issues I set below. She refused to participate.

1. In January 2002, she requested an interview with the District Attorney. He initially declined. Christine Hanley pursued the interview. She promised that she would be the only person involved in the story and she would be fair and balanced. As a result, she was granted an exclusive. She broke both ground rules. When confronted about the violation of the ground rules, she first said her editors "made (her) do it." When told that her position was unacceptable and unethical, she changed her position and stated that she never agreed to the ground rules in the first place.

2. In June 2003, Christine Hanley wrote a story comparing "four Orange County prosecutors" to gang members when there were no such facts supporting the article. She also wrote "it is not clear who reported the shooting" when she could have learned the truth through a simple phone call. The deputy district attorneys in the story had done nothing wrong. When confronted with the truth, she was unremorseful and defensive.

3. In September 2005, Christine Hanley wrote a story accusing our office of obstruction of justice and prosecutorial misconduct. She based this story on a grand jury transcript which was available to her and to the public. There was no excuse for this fabrication because the grand jury transcript directly stated facts contrary to her position. When confronted with the factual errors, she first denied there were errors. When she realized that she could not deny the factual errors because of the transcript, she admitted that she did not have time to read the entire transcript. She offered to write an article correcting the factual errors. She even requested permission from her editors to do so and was granted permission. She was granted an hour-long interview with one of the deputy district attorneys accused of the obstruction of justice and misconduct so she could finally get her facts right. She failed to write the story correcting the facts.

4. Christine Hanley harasses people and their families if she decides she does not like them. She does not like our office because we have brought attention to her factual errors and unethical behavior. She frequently harasses our office and the County requesting nonexistent documents. Her requests are insulting and harassing. She often does not even bother picking up many of her so-called urgent demands. More importantly, it costs thousands of taxpayer dollars to process her requests. A few weeks ago, she even went as far as contacting and harassing my family members. Hanley most recently submitted another public records request in September 2006. The action occurred a few days after we complained to the LATimes and after the LATimes was warned that this letter was going out. Her frivolous actions have cost the County thousands of dollars.

5. Ms. Hanley threatens you with legal retaliation if she does not like what you are doing. She will try to get you into legal trouble if you have the audacity to challenge her ethics or dare to bring attention to her factual errors. In May 2006, she emailed the LATimes attorney and County Counsel alleging that I was "spending awful lot of county time ..." responding to her articles. Instead of seeking the truth and abating her unethical behaviors, she accused me of wasting taxpayer dollars and engaging in illegal activities for sending her emails challenging the facts contained in one of her articles and her breach of ethics.

Finally, beware of the Trojan horse invitations. Be very cautious about agreeing to go to lunch, dinner or drinks with her. If you insist on paying your own way (like I always do as a practice with reporters) she will accuse you of putting that on the County's expense account. If you do accept and allow the LATimes to pay, she may accuse you of being unethical for accepting influence.

She cannot be trusted to keep her word or to cover our office accurately or fairly. Please exercise extreme caution when speaking with her. She will seem friendly in the beginning. If you have further questions about this or want to know what you should do in dealing with her, please do not hesitate to call me.

Susan Kang Schroeder
Public Affairs Counsel
susan.schroeder@da.ocgov.com
Office 714-347-8408
Cell 714-292-2718

CLICK HERE to read The Times Orange County's response to Susan Schroeder's letter.

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