In 2011 and 2012, both the ACLU and the Los Angeles County-created Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence concluded that there was a pervasive, organizational culture of excessive force in the L.A. County jail system.
In 2013, the County of Los Angeles spent approximately $20 million of taxpayer money in litigation expenses for cases brought against the Sheriff’s Department alleging excessive force. The attorneys hired by the County to defend against these cases have been accused of engaging in “scorched earth” litigation tactics and refusing reasonable settlements even when in the best interest of the County.
So on behalf of the ACLU, DWT associates Nicolas Jampol and Giancarlo Urey, with support from partner Jennifer Brockett, made a public records request to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the Office of County Counsel for invoices from the County’s outside litigation counsel on nine excessive force cases. The County refused, claiming that the records were protected by the attorney-client privilege and work product doctrine.
The team filed a petition for a writ of mandate, and in June 2014, a Superior Court judge granted the writ, holding that billing records serve an “independent and ancillary financial purpose of establishing the amount of compensation an attorney may be entitled to receive for his or her efforts in representing a client.” The Court said that while information in the billing records revealing legal opinions or reflecting litigation strategy may be redacted, the rest of the invoices had been withheld unlawfully and must be disclosed.
The ACLU Foundation of Southern California recognized Jampol, Urey, and Brockett for their work on the case and honored them with a Freedom of Information Award at the organization’s 20th Annual Law Luncheon earlier this year.
Following the ACLU’s victory in the trial court, the County sought appellate review of the decision, which the trial court entered as a final judgment in September. The Court of Appeal has accepted the case and the appellate team—consisting of Jampol, Brockett, and DWT associate Collin Peng-Sue—has submitted its brief. Oral argument is scheduled for January 2015.
Says Jampol: “A victory in this case will prevent the County from hiding behind privilege as a means to conceal important information about how it’s spending taxpayer money to defend against these and other cases of public importance.”