LOS ANGELES (CN) – A California judge indicated Friday that he will likely decline a Los Angeles police union’s request to shield police misconduct records subject to unsealing under a new state law.
The Los Angeles Police Protective League filed a petition in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Dec. 31, 2018 seeking to bar retroactive enforcement of a law passed last year which requires the release of public police records.
Richard Levine, an attorney for police unions across the state that are challenging the law, said at a hearing Friday that the state Legislature was unclear in its intent of the law’s retroactive application to pre-2019 police records.
“Our position is that the bill changes privacy rights and confidentiality rights granted to police officers under the state constitution,” said Levine, whose firm Rains Lucia Stern is representing police unions in Contra Costa, Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino and Ventura counties.
A Contra Costa County judge ruled Feb. 8 that a police union could not block public access to records of police misconduct.
The law, introduced as a bill by state Sen. Nancy Skinner and signed by former Gov. Jerry Brown, opens up access to personnel records on police shootings, excessive uses of force that resulted in death or “great bodily injury” and confirmed cases of sexual assault and lying by officers while on duty.
Levine seeks a stay order by Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff that would bar Los Angeles and its police department from releasing police records.
Cristina Salvato with Sheppard Mullin Richter, an attorney for the intervener media coalition that includes Los Angeles Times Communications and the California Newspapers Partnership, said that a stay would unlawfully restrict the public’s access to records.
Levine defended the stay request, arguing that the law challenges police officers’ expectations that their privacy and rights to confidentiality would be protected.
“Expectations can be upended by legislation,” Beckloff said, adding that Levine had not presented a sufficient argument on the law’s constitutionality.
Beckloff had previously ruled that the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California may intervene in the case on behalf of Valerie Rivera, mother of Eric Rivera who was killed by Los Angeles police officers in 2017.
Levine echoed his concerns in the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs’ Jan. 16 complaint requesting that an injunction be issued barring the law from being applied retroactively to Los Angeles County police records.
If the law was applied retroactively, LA County officers would “suffer irreparable injury and damage,” the complaint said.
Kelly Aviles, an attorney for the intervener media coalition that includes the Center for Investigative Reporting and the California News Publishers Association, said Friday in arguments against the injunction request that no law should allow for serious misconduct by police to be kept secret.
“No one has the right to sexually assault someone or unlawfully shoot someone and keep that a secret from the public,” Aviles said. “That includes police officers.”
Aviles said the public has a right to request police personnel records even in cases where no misconduct allegations have been made against an officer.
Beckloff said Friday that both the preliminary injunction motion and the petition for a stay are under submission with a ruling expected on Feb. 19.
Law enforcement agencies across the state, including the California Highway Patrol, are complying with the new law and handing over requested personnel records, but some police departments, including the Inglewood Police Department, have opted to destroy police records before the law took effect on Jan. 1.
A San Francisco Bay Area free-speech group filed a lawsuit Thursday against California Attorney General Xavier Becerra over his refusal to release misconduct records for California Department of Justice officers.
Becerra, who in recent years has burnished his status as the leader of the legal battle against the Trump administration, has cited lawsuits across the state over the bill’s disclosure requirements as a justification.
The First Amendment Coalition said in a statement Thursday that it wants a judge to order Becerra to release the records.