A judge on Thursday refused to dismiss sexual-assault and other charges against ex-Santa Ana councilman, Carols Bustamante, accused of preying on women who worked for him in the county’s public works department.
Bustamante has pleaded not guilty, said that he cannot get a fair trial and asked that the case against him be thrown out. His attorney pointed to what he called “inflammatory and prejudicial” statements by Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas as evidence that Bustamante was not being treated fairly.
District Attorney Rackauckas has made statements after Bustamante’s arrest saying, “We want to know how a wolf was kept in charge of his prey for so long.”
Judge Peter Wilson is presiding over the hearing and has said nothing in Rackauckas’ statements was enough to invalidate the entire case, although he said he was “troubled” by the wolf remark. He also rejected Bustamante’s request that the District Attorney’s Office be taken off the case, saying there was no evidence of bias or conflict of interest that would justify such a move.
Bustamante declined to comment after the hearing, referring questions to his attorney. His attorney also declined to comment as he was leaving the courtroom except to say he agreed with the judge that Rackauckas’ wolf comment was troubling
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.
Bustamante is accused of sexually assaulting seven women who worked for him in the county public works department. At the time, he was the department’s director of administrative services as well as a Santa Ana city councilman, both positions that he has since relinquished.
Bustamante’s attorney has said that what happened in county offices amounted to misdemeanor battery or unwanted touching, not felony sexual assault. He said the District Attorney’s Office has “trashed” Bustamante’s name, distributing a videotape of his arrest and making statements that could prejudice potential jurors.
But Deputy District Attorney Matt Lockhart said Rackauckas made those statements as a call to other possible victims to come forward, a call that has not yielded additional charges. Lockhart said Rackauckas made clear that his statements were accusations only and had not been proven in court. And, Lockhart said, nothing in those statements would justify dismissing all charges.