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Deputies’ Records Opened

Times Staff Writer

The county sheriff’s deputies union lost its appeal Wednesday to shield discipline records from the public, granting media access to internal investigative reports that accuse law enforcement officials of dishonesty, excessive force and other misconduct.

A Superior Court judge lifted the temporary restraining order the Assn. of Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs obtained Jan. 19, which blocked the Los Angeles Times from reviewing law enforcement records it received from the county’s Civil Service Commission.

Those records include appeals cases in which the commission overturned discipline measures against sheriff’s deputies involved in a 2001 bar fight. One of the off-duty officials, Deputy Frank Rothe, was suspended for 25 days after being accused of hitting a bar patron with a beer bottle.

The union maintains that its investigative records were intended only for internal use, and therefore outsiders should not be privy to them. But Times attorneys argued that those records were made public when they were admitted into the commission’s appeals hearings as evidence, after Rothe decided to dispute the commission’s disciplinary decision.

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The commission has already handed over those case filings to the media.

“We rushed in here to stop it,” said Richard Shinee, who represented the union. “We have this hemorrhage of private information slipping out the back door of the Civil Service Commission. They simply give this stuff away.”

Judge David P. Yaffe said his decision could have been different had the union objected to the media’s access when the case first went to trial.

“Having heard no such objection,” Yaffe said in his tentative decision, “the officers cannot impose a duty upon the commission to control public access to such information.”

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Yaffe suggested that the union go back to the commission and create a more specific list of which of its investigative documents are private and which are not, so there will be no more confusion the next time one of those documents gets pulled into a public appeals process.

The union’s only option now, Yaffe said, is to go back and see whether the specific documents that The Times obtained were officially deemed private before they were released to the media.

Shinee said he is sure “this is not the last chapter.”

“The commission just needs to use some discretion in what it gives away,” he told the judge.

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Defense attorneys on the media’s side said the access to the records was a matter of accountability.


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