The California Supreme Court has decided to
hear the appeal
requested by Sheriff Jim McDonnell regarding the well-reasoned
Appellate Court decision
which found the department's proposed release of its self-created Brady list to be illegal.
While the department has attempted to portray itself as the "white knight" seeking to fulfill a constitutional disclosure obligation, it hides the fact that what it really wants to disclose is a product of a fundamentally flawed discipline process. Were the public to know the truth behind the sheriff's disciplinary process, they would realize any trust in the disciplinary decisions or predetermination of a deputy's credibility made by the department is misplaced.
The facts are that political considerations, bias, grudges, faulty analysis, and outright misrepresentation have for many decades plagued the Sheriff's Department's investigatory and disciplinary decision making process. The world got a small glimpse of these problems with the recent convictions of Lee Baca and Paul Tanaka, which revealed how the Baca & Tanaka administration ran the department and disciplined those they perceived to be their "enemies."
The facts are there has been a staggering reversal rate, as high as 80%, of department disciplinary decisions upon appeal to the Civil Service Commission and other neutral third-parties, where the department is unable to produce any factual basis for the discipline imposed. The proposed "Brady list" is a direct product of this flawed disciplinary process.
When the Appeals Court wrote that releasing the names of deputies on this proposed list would "cause stigma and irreparable harm to the individual deputy's reputation," it only scratched the surface of the issues with the list. It is not just the public release of the names that causes harm; it is that little trust should be placed in the process which caused the names to land on the list.
That is why we are vigorously defending the rights of deputies and will use all legal means to protect those rights.
For the past 40 years, there has been a well-run process in place for prosecutors and defense attorneys to obtain material information about the past conduct of any material witness deputy in any criminal case. Known as a Pitchess Motion, it requires a judge to inspect a deputy's personnel file to determine if there is material information that should be released to the lawyers in a criminal case. Further, an appeal process is available if a party disagrees with a judge's decision to release or not release information from a file. It is this process, and not the discredited product of the Sheriff's Department discipline process, in which the public should place its trust.
To be very clear, ALADS does not support or condone deputies who commit illegal or unlawful acts, as they besmirch all who proudly wear the uniform. These deputies are routinely, and successfully, fired by the department and their names are not included on the contested Brady list. ALADS cannot, however, support a public shaming list when the very process upon which the list was created has proven time and again to be terribly flawed and infested with personal animosity, revenge, and retaliation.
Two courts have now told Sheriff McDonnell he is wrong; the Supreme Court will have the final word. There are far-reaching personal and professional consequences for an employee to be wrongfully labeled by the Sheriff's Department's flawed disciplinary process as a problematic deputy, be placed on the Sheriff's Brady list, and identified to every district attorney and defense attorney as an untrustworthy, disgraced law enforcement officer. It is for these reasons that ALADS has, and will continue, to use the legal process to ensure our members' privacy rights are not invaded for purposes of publicity and political gain.