Calif. sheriff's union wins court order blocking release of police disciplinary files under new law
The union contends the law should not be enforced retroactively, meaning documents relating to events before 2019 would remain secret
The Orange County Register
ORANGE COUNTY, Calif. — The union representing Orange County sheriff’s deputies won a court stay Thursday blocking the release of disciplinary files under a state police transparency law that took effect Jan. 1.
Superior Court Judge Nathan Scott granted the temporary order and scheduled a full hearing for Feb. 7.
The Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs, following a trend by other police unions in California, contends the law should not be enforced retroactively — meaning documents relating to events before 2019 would remain secret.
At least five unions, including one representing San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies, have obtained or are seeking court action to stop police departments from complying retroactively with the statute, which was intended to break more than 40 years of police secrecy.
Authored by state Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, the law allows the release of personnel records and disciplinary files for police officers involved in the use of deadly force, sustained sexual assault and sustained dishonesty, such as evidence tampering. The statute, however, is silent on whether it should be enforced retroactively.
Attorney Jacob A. Kalinsky, representing the Orange County union, argued in court papers that the law would have addressed retroactivity if that’s what the Legislature wanted.
“Senate Bill 1421 does not contain any express provision or language requiring retroactivity or any clear indication that the Legislature intended the statute to operate retroactively … with respect to peace officer personnel records and information which arose out of incidents involving peace officer conduct occurring prior to January 1, 2019,” Kalinsky wrote.
After the ruling, Kalinsky said it was “the responsible thing for the court to do.”
The union’s effort to block compliance is being opposed by the county of Orange and attorneys for Voice of OC, the Los Angeles Times and Southern California Public Radio.
Attorney Kelly Aviles, representing the three news media organizations, accused the union in court of trying to do “an improper end run around the procedures in the Public Records Act.”
The Orange County Register is one of 11 organizations that are seeking records from the Sheriff’s Department under the new law, which replaces protections set in the mid-1970s to keep police disciplinary records secret out of fear they would damage criminal cases and encourage lawsuits.
©2019 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.)