Ass'n for L. A. Deputy Sheriffs v. Superior Court of Cal. ex rel. the Cnty. of L. A.

Citation221 Cal.Rptr.3d 51,13 Cal.App.5th 413
Decision Date11 July 2017
Docket NumberB280676
CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals
Parties ASSOCIATION FOR LOS ANGELES DEPUTY SHERIFFS, Petitioner, v. SUPERIOR COURT of the State of California for the County of Los Angeles, Respondent; Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department et al., Real Parties in Interest.

Green & Shinee, Richard A. Shinee, Elizabeth J. Gibbons, and Emily B. Suhr, Encino, for Petitioner.

Frederick Bennett, Los Angeles, for Respondent.

Liebert Cassidy Whitmore, San Diego, Geoffrey S. Sheldon, Los Angeles, Alex Y. Wong, and James E. Oldendorph, Jr., Los Angeles, for Real Parties in Interest Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.



The primary issue in this case is whether the nearly 40–year–old California statutory scheme that governs discovery of peace officer personnel records, when applied to criminal cases, violates due process and is therefore unconstitutional.

Petitioner, the Association for Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriffs (ALADS), is the union that represents non-supervisory Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputies. Real party in interest, Jim McDonnell, is the duly elected Sheriff of Los Angeles County (real party). Other real parties in interest include the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department (LASD), Los Angeles County, and Does one through 50 (collectively real parties).

In Brady v. Maryland (1963) 373 U.S. 83, 87, 83 S.Ct. 1194, 10 L.Ed.2d 215 ( Brady ), the United States Supreme Court held that constitutional due process creates an affirmative obligation on the part of the prosecution, whether or not requested by the defense, to disclose all evidence within its possession that is exculpatory to a criminal defendant. Exculpatory evidence under Brady includes impeachment evidence. ( Giglio v. United States (1972) 405 U.S. 150, 153–155, 92 S.Ct. 763, 31 L.Ed.2d 104 ( Giglio ).) The prosecution's disclosure obligation under Brady extends not only to evidence in its immediate possession, but also to evidence in the possession of other members of the prosecution team, including law enforcement. ( In re Steele (2004) 32 Cal.4th 682, 697, 10 Cal.Rptr.3d 536, 85 P.3d 444, citing Kyles v. Whitley (1995) 514 U.S. 419, 437, 115 S.Ct. 1555, 131 L.Ed.2d 490.)

Eleven years after Brady , the California Supreme Court, in Pitchess v. Superior Court (1974) 11 Cal.3d 531, 537, 113 Cal.Rptr. 897, 522 P.2d 305 ( Pitchess ), held that under certain circumstances, and upon an adequate showing, a criminal defendant may discover information from a peace officer's otherwise confidential personnel file that is relevant to his or her defense. The California Legislature eventually codified what became known as Pitchess motions in Penal Code sections 832.7 and 832.8, as well as Evidence Code sections 1043 through 1045 (collectively, the Pitchess statutes). ( People v. Mooc (2001) 26 Cal.4th 1216, 1219–1220, 114 Cal.Rptr.2d 482, 36 P.3d 21 ( Mooc ).)1 Generally speaking, the Pitchess statutes require a criminal defendant to file a written motion that establishes good cause for the discovery sought. If such a showing is made, the trial court then reviews the law enforcement personnel records in camera with the custodian, and discloses to the defendant any relevant information from the personnel file. ( Mooc , at p. 1226, 114 Cal.Rptr.2d 482, 36 P.3d 21.)

Absent compliance with these procedures, peace officer personnel records, as well as information from them, are confidential and shall not be disclosed "in any criminal or civil proceeding[.]" ( § 832.7, subds. (a) & (f).) Records that cannot be disclosed absent compliance with the Pitchess procedures include the names or identities of peace officers to the extent such a disclosure also links the officers to disciplinary investigations in their personnel files. ( Copley Press, Inc. v. Superior Court (2006) 39 Cal.4th 1272, 1297–1299, 48 Cal.Rptr.3d 183, 141 P.3d 288 ( Copley Press ); accord Long Beach Police Officers Assn. v. City of Long Beach (2014) 59 Cal.4th 59, 71–73, 172 Cal.Rptr.3d 56, 325 P.3d 460 ( Long Beach) ; Commission on Peace Officer Standards & Training v. Superior Court (2007) 42 Cal.4th 278, 295, 298–299, 64 Cal.Rptr.3d 661, 165 P.3d 462 ( POST ).) Prosecutors do not have a superior right of access to law enforcement personnel files, and must also comply with the Pitchess statutes to obtain information from them. ( People v. Superior Court (Johnson) (2015) 61 Cal.4th 696, 714, 206 Cal.Rptr.3d 606, 377 P.3d 847 ( Johnson ).)

In this case, the LASD created a so-called " Brady " list of deputies whose personnel files contain sustained allegations of misconduct allegedly involving moral turpitude or other bad acts relevant to impeachment. The LASD proposed to disclose that list to the district attorney, as well as to other prosecutorial agencies that handle LASD investigations, so that prosecutors in individual cases could file Pitchess motions to discover the underlying misconduct or advise the defense of the disclosure so the defense could file its own Pitchess motion. ALADS opposed disclosure of the Brady list and filed the immediate action. ALADS' lawsuit seeks, in part, an injunction that prohibits disclosure of the list or any individual on the list to anyone outside the LASD, including prosecutors, absent complete compliance with the Pitchess statutes described above.

After full briefing, the trial court filed a thorough and lengthy written tentative ruling. After oral argument, and consistent with that tentative, the court issued a preliminary injunction which prohibits general disclosure of the Brady list to the district attorney or other relevant prosecutors. Consistent with Copley Press , POST , and Long Beach, the trial court determined that such a disclosure, because it identifies administratively disciplined deputies by name in the absence of a properly filed, heard, and granted Pitchess motion, violates the Pitchess statutes.

The injunction, however, expressly allows disclosure of individual deputies from the list to prosecutors, in the absence of compliance with Pitchess statutes, so long as any disclosed deputy is also a potential witness in a pending criminal prosecution. The trial court acknowledged that such a disclosure also violates the Pitchess statutes. The trial court, however, held that a filed criminal case triggers Brady and that the LASD, as part of the prosecution team, then has a " Brady obligation" to disclose exculpatory evidence in its possession. Because of this obligation, the LASD, in the language of the trial court's injunction, "may" notify the prosecutor—in the absence of a fully litigated and granted Pitchess motion—that the identified deputy has a founded administrative allegation of misconduct relevant to his or her credibility.

The trial court's finding that, because of its " Brady obligation," the LASD "may" violate the Pitchess statutes' disclosure prohibition, is, in our opinion, identical to finding that the Pitchess statutes' disclosure prohibition is unconstitutional in the particular context of a filed prosecution wherein a Brady list deputy is a witness. There is simply no lawful way judicially to approve a violation of state law unless compelled to do so by a higher authority: in this case, the United States Constitution as construed in Brady . Also, Brady disclosure is an affirmative, sua sponte, obligation of the prosecution team, meaning the prosecution is required to turn over all exculpatory information in its possession to the defense whether or not the defense requests it. Therefore, to the extent Brady creates a disclosure obligation that overrides Pitchess confidentiality, it is mandatory rather than permissive, no matter how the injunction itself is worded. And, if Brady compels the LASD to violate state law in this fashion, by disclosing the identity of a Brady list deputy in the absence of a fully litigated and granted Pitchess motion where a deputy is also a witness in a filed prosecution, then it compels every state and local law enforcement agency in California to do the same under the same or similar circumstances.2

The affirmative disclosure obligation of the prosecution required by Brady and constitutional due process have now coexisted with a criminal defendant's good cause burden under the Pitchess statutes for nearly 40 years. In that time frame, no reported case that we are aware of has found Pitchess or the Pitchess statutes to contravene Brady and thus violate the United States Constitution. In this case, real parties ask us to uphold the trial court's injunction. As explained above, to do so would require us to find the Pitchess statutes unconstitutional insofar as they prohibit, absent compliance with their specific procedures, disclosure to prosecutors of deputies from the Brady list who are also potential witnesses in a pending criminal prosecution. ALADS disagrees that Brady and constitutional due process compel disclosure in the absence of compliance with Pitchess, even if the deputy is a potential witness in a pending criminal prosecution. ALADS seeks an order commanding the trial court to strike language that permits such disclosure from the injunction.

While we understand the appeal of a procedure intended to streamline the disclosure of information that guarantees a criminal defendant's right to a fair trial, we do not write on a blank slate guided only by policy concerns. Both our Supreme Court and at least one Court of Appeal have examined the constitutionality of Pitchess and the Pitchess statutes in light of Brady and found no constitutional infirmity. It is our obligation to follow precedent, whether or not we agree with it; we have no authority, as an intermediate appellate court, to ignore precedent, jump ahead of our Supreme Court, and create new law. (See Auto Equity Sales, Inc. v. Superior Court (1962) 57 Cal.2d 450, 455, 20 Cal.Rptr. 321, 369 P.2d 937 ( Auto Equity Sales ).)

Our review of the relevant ca...

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7 cases
  • Ass'n for L.A. Deputy Sheriffs v. Superior Court of L.A. Cnty.
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    ...until the court ruled on the request for a preliminary injunction. ( Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs v. Superior Court (2017) 13 Cal.App.5th 413, 421, 221 Cal.Rptr.3d 51 ( Deputy Sheriffs ).)1 The trial court granted the request in part. It agreed with the Association that the i......
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