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Deputies union ordered to pay L.A. Times in failed censorship suit

Deputies union ordered to pay @latimes in failed censorship suit
Deputies union ordered to pay @latimes legal fees after failing to block publication of officers' information
L.A. County Superior Court judge orders deputies union to cover

Months after it unsuccessfully sought to stop the Los Angeles Times from publishing information gleaned from officers' personnel files, a union representing Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies has been ordered to pay the newspaper more than $41,000 in legal fees.

In a final ruling issued Wednesday, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Michelle Rosenblatt said that as the prevailing party, The Times was entitled to recoup its cost for attorneys.

"Hopefully this will help discourage other lawsuits aimed at censoring news reporting," said Dan Laidman, one of the attorneys who represented the newspaper.

Laidman said a lawyer for the union, which was given until June 30 to pay, said it plans to appeal. Calls to that attorney were not immediately returned.

The Assn. for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs sought a restraining order against The Times in September to block the publication of details culled from 500 officers' background screenings reviewed by a Times reporter.

The documents contained information on officers from the Los Angeles County Office of Public Safety who applied for positions with the Sheriff's Department when the agencies merged in 2010. The union argued officers had an expectation of privacy when it came to their records and that the information had been stolen and should be returned.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Joanne O'Donnell denied the emergency request.

A month later, Rosenblatt struck down the union's request for a permanent injunction, agreeing with The Times that the qualifications, conduct and identities of peace officers were matters of public interest. She found the newspaper was protected by the 1st Amendment and that the union had presented no evidence that the files were obtained illegally. The union appealed and the case is ongoing.

The union's president, Don Jeffrey Steck, stood by the association's case on Wednesday saying he believed it was wrong for the paper to use the "personnel files for the basis of any type of reporting."

A Times article in December revealed that the sheriff's department had hired dozens of officers from the Office of Public Safety with a history of misconduct that included having sex at work, soliciting prostitutes, accidentally firing their weapons and cheating on polygraph exams.

corina.knoll@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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