LOS ANGELES - Today, the ACLU of Southern California (ACLU SoCal) and a concerned taxpayer, Eric Preven, filed a lawsuit demanding that Los Angeles County and the Office of the County Counsel release invoices detailing the amounts of money billed by private law firms in lawsuits filed against the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (LASD) and its personnel.
The ACLU SoCal and Mr. Preven submitted several California Public Records Act (CPRA) requests for the documents that list not only money paid to private attorneys, but also the contracts between the County and individuals hired to oversee implementation of the recommendations of the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence. The County Counsel denied the requests. Lawyers from the ACLU Foundation of Southern California and the law firm of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP are representing ACLU SoCal, and the ACLU Foundation of Southern California is representing Mr. Preven.
During the fiscal year 2011-12, lawsuits against the Sheriff’s department cost the county $37 million, not including the costs the County paid to private lawyers to defend LASD, according to Supervisor Gloria Molina. The cost of defending LASD likely adds millions of dollars to the total. In just the first six months of fiscal year 2012-13, the total the County spent on verdicts and settlements on lawsuits against LASD was $25 million, not including the costs of defending those suits.
“We are asking the officials of Los Angeles County to be transparent and tell taxpayers how their money is being spent on private attorneys to defend deputies accused of savage beatings and other illegal actions,” said Peter Eliasberg, legal director for the ACLU Foundation of SoCal. John F. Krattili, county counsel, responded to the CPRA requests saying that billing records that document the tasks and time for which private firms were billing the County are exempt from disclosure.
“The County is paying out millions of dollars to private law firms, and when we, the people, ask to learn more about how that money is being spent, the answer is ‘none of your business!’ Sorry, that doesn't cut it.” said Petitioner Eric Preven. “We're demanding an end to the secrecy around practices that may well have cost the taxpayers far more than they’ve saved."
“The County has no valid legal basis to keep these records hidden from the public,” said Jennifer L. Brockett, a partner at Davis Wright Tremaine.
“The County should turn the records over, not defend withholding records that the law does not permit them to withhold.”
Attorneys also want light shed on contracts between the county and individuals paid to consult or oversee implementation of some Jail Commission recommendations.