City of Los Angeles Files Answer to Stop LAPD Spying Coalition Public Records Act Petition: Admits Guilt, Expects Reward

Los Angeles Deputy City Attorney Julie Raffish.
Why is the City of LA fighting this lawsuit? What a freaking waste of time and money. On January 26, 2016, the City of Los Angeles filed its answer to the petition filed by Colleen Flynn and Carol Sobel on behalf of the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition and the National Lawyers Guild Los Angeles seeking a writ of mandate ordering the LAPD to stop messing about and turn over the goddamned goodies. (You can find a collection of filings from this suit here). Paragraphs 1 through 9 of the initial complaint are background, and Julie Raffish, who wrote the answer, gets to indulge her evident taste for dark sarcasm in her responses, e.g. at paragraph 4 denying that the NLG is a non-profit legal association.

She also displays a wry, deadpan humor. For instance, in paragraph 3 the plaintiffs assert that the Coalition to Stop LAPD Spying “empowers its members to work collectively against police repression and to dismantle domestic spying operations” and that therefore the Coalition has an interest in the LAPD’s adhering to the Public Records Act. Julie Raffish has the City admitting that the Coalition is interested, but claiming that, as to the rest of the allegations they “lack sufficient information and knowledge to form a belief as to the truth…” of, I guess, whether there are “police repression” and “domestic spying operations” to be dismantled and worked collectively against. Dry as a bone, is Julie Raffish, and isn’t lawyerly humor fun! But the public records stuff is where it gets really interesting:

Paragraph 10 alleges that petitioners delivered two CPRA requests to the LAPD on May 29, 2015. The City admits that this is true.

Paragraph 11 alleges that the LAPD didn’t respond within 10 days, as required by the law. The City admits that this is true.

Paragraph 12 alleges that the LAPD gave a partial response on August 27, 2015. The City admits that this is true.

Paragraph 13 alleges that on September 18, 2015, petitioners asked the LAPD what the heck was going on and threatened to sue them if they didn’t start playing by the rules. The City admits that this is true.

Paragraph 14 alleges that the LAPD never responded to this letter. The City admits that this is true.

Paragraph 16 alleges that the records they’re seeking are (a) public records and (b) not exempt from disclosure. The City admits that “some, but not all, of the requested records are public records not exempt from disclosure.”

Paragraph 17 alleges that the LAPD failed to expend the required-by-law reasonable effort to find the requested records. The City admits that this was true, but says that the omission was “inadvertent.”

Paragraph 18 alleges that the LAPD violated the public records act by not making non-exempt records available promptly. The City denies that they violated the law, even though they just finished admitting that they didn’t even answer the request, let alone make the records available.

Paragraph 19 alleges that the LAPD violated the public records act by not responding within 10 days. The City denies that they violated the law, even though they just finished admitting that they didn’t respond at all, let alone within 10 days.

The City then offers what it self-indulgently calls affirmative defenses (even though, one would think, that to be an affirmative defense, a fact must first be a defense). They say, essentially, that the sought-for records are exempt from production under the law. Seriously. That’s their whole defense, and, they claim, therefore they shouldn’t have to produce the records (which would be true if they are exempt) and that they shouldn’t have to pay costs. That the records are exempt, though, isn’t a defense to the allegations at all. The law requires the City to respond on time whether the records are exempt or not. They admitted that they didn’t. What are they thinking when they make this argument? Are they serious?

Also, the issue of who gets awarded costs in Public Records Act suits is laid out clearly in the law itself. If the people who want the records win the case they also get their costs awarded to them. But if the fact of the suit encourages the agency to hand over the records, that counts as a win. And if the records are exempt and the suit encourages the agency to state explicitly that they are when they hadn’t done so before, this must also count as a win. If it didn’t, the law wouldn’t make it possible to sue to force an agency to respond without knowing in advance if the records requested were exempt. That’s not reasonable.

In this case, by claiming that the records are exempt, whether or not that’s true, the City seems to have finally responded to the request for public records. Self-evidently the lawsuit made them respond, so by the City’s own admission Stop LAPD Spying seems to have won the case and should therefore get fees at least.1

By fighting this loser of a case, the City is just running up the plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees, and they’re going to end up paying them. While I’m happy to see Colleen Flynn and Carol Sobel get paid, I don’t think it makes sense for the City to pay them this way. Anyway, why can’t the LAPD just follow the freaking law and respond in the mandated time-frame? There’s no hard deadline in the CPRA for actually handing over the documents. If the City got sued for not producing records in a timely manner after having answered on time they at least wouldn’t look so arrogant, so entitled. No wonder they think the originally assigned judge is prejudiced against them. If this is how they act, it’s probably true.

Image of DCA Julie Raffish is deep-linked-to.

  1. Obviously, though, I don’t really know what I’m talking about, and this could be a (I flatter myself) slightly more sane version of the admiralty flag theory.

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