L.A. Superior Court Faces Class Action

     LOS ANGELES (CN) - Los Angeles Superior Court failed to destroy information on more than 35,000 marijuana-related offenses, and publishes it in an online index of criminal cases that lists the charges but not the dispositions, which hurts people looking for work, a class action claims in Superior Court.
     Two Doe plaintiffs say the court has maintained "a purported 'index' of criminal cases for Los Angeles County ... that can be name searched by anyone by remote electronic access."
     The index, which includes misdemeanor cases from about 1979 to today and felony cases from about 1973 to the present, returns information that "does not summarize every proceeding in a substantial number of cases, that lists the charges filed against a named defendant but not the dispositions in more than 380,000 cases despite the fact that dispositions, many favorable to the listed defendant and protective of employment and other rights, have been rendered by the Los Angeles courts several decades in the past, that does not list any specific charge or disposition information in at least 100,000 cases, and that reports information on instances in which no complaint was filed in other cases," according to the complaint.
     The class claims on Oct. 30 "a name search of the index was conducted for a common last and first name for the two year period from Jan. 1, 1988 to Jan. 1, 1990. The response to the index search indicated there were 119 records for that time period. Thirty records or 25 percent of the 119 records listed a charge filed between 1988 and Jan. 1, 1990, without providing any disposition information. Forty records or 33 percent of the 119 records did not list charge or disposition information. Three records or 2.5 percent of the 119 records listed a charge filed in the above time period with a disposition of 'pending.'"
     More than 30 percent of the records in the index pertain to cases where the defendant was released, not convicted, or the charges were dismissed, according to the complaint.
     The plaintiffs say the court is required to destroy records of marijuana-related offenses when 2 years have passed from the date of conviction or arrest, and when the defendant has reached 18 years old.
     Lead plaintiff John Doe, who was convicted of a misdemeanor violation of the California Health and Safety Code in 1998 that was later dismissed, says he "wishes to seek employment and other benefits" but is "discouraged from applying for employment and his ability to obtain employment and other benefits is lessened as a result of defendants' unlawful references to the above charge on the index and the broad access to the index."
     The class claims the index also uses a date of birth confirmation search that "discloses whether the date of birth associated with a name in the index matches the name and date of birth submitted by a searcher of the index," but California law does not allow confirmation of date of birth information.
     Plaintiff Ronald Roe applied for a job with Los Angeles County in July 2009, and claims a background report using the name and date of birth search through the index showed that he "had failed a 'County Criminal' check pertaining to records in the county of Los Angeles and that Roe had been found guilty of 'possess [sic] not more than 28.5 grams of marijuana.'"
     The court's "release of index information in response to name searches constitutes the release of criminal offender record information ... and such information may be lawfully released only if authorized by California law," according to the complaint.
     The plaintiffs seek class certification, and an injunction to stop defendants from "failing to promptly submit to the court for approval and adopt and implement a schedule for timely destruction of post-1976 marijuana offenses," from "disseminating incomplete and incorrect index" information, and from providing birth date searches of index information.
     The defendants are the Los Angeles County Superior Court and its Executive Officer John Clarke.
     The class is represented by Peter Sheehan with the Social Justice Law Project, of Oakland.