Los Angeles City Atty. Mike Feuer confirmed Monday that he would appeal a judge's ruling that struck down the city Police Department's contentious vehicle impound policy.
Feuer said he will ask a state appeals court this week to set aside the judge's ruling pending the outcome of the lengthy appeal. If that request is granted, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck would be free to reinstate the impound rules, which he rescinded Friday.
It had been widely anticipated that Feuer would appeal the ruling by L.A. Superior Court Judge Terry Green. Although the judge had indicated several weeks ago that he planned to knock down the impound policy, Green only recently issued a formal order in the case, which forced Beck's hand and led Feuer to set the appeal in motion.
Under the terms of the impound policy, called Special Order 7, if officers stopped an unlicensed driver who met several requirements -- including having auto insurance, valid identification and no previous citations for unlicensed driving -- they could no longer invoke the part of the state vehicle code that allowed them to confiscate the vehicle for 30 days.
The monthlong hold typically comes with fines and charges often exceeding $1,200.
In a city with an estimated 400,000 immigrants who are in the country illegally and forbidden by state law from obtaining driver's licenses, Beck and the LAPD's civilian oversight board, which approved the policy, have argued that Special Order 7 was needed for moral and practical reasons.
The 30-day holds, they said, unfairly burdened such drivers, who often are poor and risk having cars seized that they need to drive to work or take their children to school. Beck said he expected the policy would encourage unlicensed drivers to take steps such as buying insurance to avoid the monthlong holds.
The Police Protective League, the union representing officers, sued over the policy, arguing that it attempted to supersede the state's impound laws.
Despite the courtroom defeat, Beck has remained steadfast that Special Order 7 is legal, saying Green's ruling undermined his authority to command his officers. Nonetheless, Beck said he had no choice but to comply and so notified officers in a message Friday that they should no longer adhere to the rules.
In the place of Special Order 7, Beck issued a new directive that returns some level of authority to officers when deciding on impounds but instructs them to take a common-sense approach spelled out in a legal principle called the Community Caretaking Doctrine.
They should, Beck wrote, "take into account the 'totality of the circumstances' to determine whether an impound/removal is appropriate."
For example, Beck said, an impound is acceptable if there is no other way to prevent "the immediate and continued unlawful operation" of a car. However, according to the doctrine, if someone else in the car has a license or the unlicensed driver is already at his residence when pulled over, then the officer should not impound the car, Beck said.
The chief also tried to clarify for officers the multiple sections of the state vehicle code that authorize officers to use the 30-day hold in some cases and a less-severe impound in others, under which a driver can retrieve the car immediately.
Beck had said in the past that the various sections of the code were confusing and left unlicensed drivers at the mercy of individual officers, some of whom may take a more lenient approach than others.
In announcing his plans to appeal, Feuer pointed out that state Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris previously issued a legal opinion that the LAPD could legally implement Special Order 7.
The union, and other critics, have highlighted instead an opinion by the Legislative Analyst's Office, which advises state lawmakers, that the policy was not permissible.