LOS ANGELES — The ACLU Foundation of Southern California and the law firm of Bird Marella filed a friend of the court brief on Friday supporting the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department's efforts to make information about past misconduct of its deputies more available. This brief, filed last week on behalf of the ACLU SoCal, California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, California Public Defenders Association and Dignity and Power Now, challenges the Association of Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs (ALADS) union's efforts to keep the information from criminal defense lawyers.
The sheriff's department had compiled a list of deputies who have a record of infractions — such as theft, domestic violence and use of excessive force — that could damage their credibility if called upon to testify in a court case. The list of names was to go directly to prosecutors, who would have a duty to inform defense lawyers if any of those officers was a potential witness in a criminal case.
Peter Eliasberg, chief counsel/Manheim Family attorney for First Amendment Rights at the ACLU SoCal, said: "Criminal trials are not games where the prosecution and law enforcement are permitted to withhold information that helps the defense. It is essential to the right to a fair trial that the prosecutor inform the defense if there is potentially exculpatory or impeachment evidence in an officer's personnel file, including conclusions by the department that an officer has filed a false report or lied on the witness stand."
"The public at large deserves a criminal justice system that lets prosecutors identify problem deputies who have engaged in untrustworthy behavior, like falsifying police reports or fabricating evidence," added Benjamin Gluck, principal at Bird Marella, Boxer, Wolpert, Nessim, Drooks, Lincenberg & Rhow, P.C. "People can be sent to prison on the strength of a deputy's testimony, and prosecutors, the courts and defendants should be informed when there is evidence of such conduct by deputies in their cases."
The deputy sheriffs' union maintained that use of the list would infringe on the privacy rights of deputies. An appeals court last month gave the union a partial win — it said the full 300-name list should not be disclosed. However, the court said the names of deputies who could possibly be called to testify in specific cases should be made available to prosecutors. The union again objected, asking the court to block the disclosure of even this limited information. The ACLU SoCal's amicus brief backs the sheriff's department being allowed to dole out the names when pertinent.
Moreover, the ACLU SoCal continues its fight to bring law enforcement officer's records out of the shadows. Last year, it sponsored a state senate bill (SB 1286) that would have made those records more available. The bill died in committee, but further legislative actions are under consideration.