California Supreme Court Rejects Police Union Petition On Police Transparency Law

On Wednesday, the California Supreme Court denied a police union’s last-minute petition to change a new police transparency law, rejecting the union’s effort to make the law – Senate Bill 1421 – apply only to records created after Jan. 1, 2019.

SB 1421, authored by Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), requires that certain personnel records and records relating to specified incidents, complaints and investigations involving peace officers and custodial officers to be made available for public inspection pursuant to the California Public Records Act – a sweeping change in California law.

In a one-sentence order issued Wednesday, the California Supreme Court rejected a petition filed on Dec. 18 by the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Employees’ Benefit Association. 

The First Amendment Coalition, or FAC, led a coalition of media groups in opposing the union’s effort, filing papers on Dec. 28 urging the court to deny the effort to gut the law.

“This is a great result for transparency and for the public,” said FAC Executive Director David Snyder. “We’re grateful the Supreme Court saw through the union’s Hail Mary effort to weaken this law, which will allow broad public access to police misconduct files.”

The union had asked the high court to rule that the bill, signed into law in September, applies only to records created after Jan. 1 – the bill’s effective date. That came after the county of San Bernardino stated in a Dec. 13 letter that it intended to retroactively apply the legislation’s amendments to personnel records, according to a union announcement when it filed the petition.

The union said the release of such records before the bill’s effective date would cause irreparable harm to the statutory and constitutional rights of its members, as peace officers’ personnel records received legal protection prior to SB 1421.

The Peace Officers Research Association of California, or PORAC, raised issue with the bill previously, saying its mandates are broad, and that it creates confusion and uncertainty in the administrative disciplinary process.

PORAC said the information that will be released because of this bill is already available to defendants in an action against the department through the “Pitchess” System that has been in law for 50 years, and through discovery, and raised concern that, should information about law enforcement discipline be publicized, a wave of habeas corpus petitions from convicted criminals would follow.

Joining FAC in the effort to oppose the union’s petition were the Los Angeles Times, KQED and the California News Publishers Association.

See the briefing filed by FAC here. See here for the petition filed by the police union.

The union employed Rains Lucia Stern St. Phalle & Silver P.C. to file the legal challenge on behalf of its members. FAC and the media coalition are represented in this matter by James Chadwick and Tenaya Rodewald of the Sheppard Mullin law firm.

From Lake County News