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Times asks court to order disclosure of sexual misconduct records in Los Angeles D.A.'s office

Los Angeles Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey
Los Angeles County has refused to disclose records about sexual misconduct claims against employees of the district attorney’s office, led by Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey, above, that are public under California law, according to a lawsuit filed by the Los Angeles Times.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles Times has asked a judge to order the disclosure of records pertaining to sexual harassment and misconduct in the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office, claiming the county is obstructing the release of newsworthy information before the November elections.

The petition, filed Tuesday in Superior Court, stems from a lawsuit The Times filed March 2018 in which the newspaper accused the county of repeatedly breaking transparency laws. Among other things, The Times had sought records about sexual misconduct claims against employees of the district attorney’s office, as well as records of investigations and discipline stemming from such claims since January 2006.

The county has been delaying access to records related to sexual harassment or misconduct despite recently, admitting it must disclose well-founded complaints of a substantial nature, the petition says. It also holds that the county has failed to release an anonymized index of incidents of sexual harassment and misconduct it already agreed to produce in discovery nearly a year ago.

“The County appears to be attempting to run the clock out on the upcoming election for district attorney in an effort to deny the public relevant information about the District Attorney’s management of complaints by employees in her office,” The Times wrote in its petition.

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Greg Risling, a spokesman for L.A. Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey, declined to comment on the pending litigation.

The California Public Records Act, like similar legislation around the country, aims to ensure quick public access to records generated by government employees. But there is tension between the public’s right to know and government officials’ concerns over privacy and other exemptions to the law.

The county had previously denied The Times public records request on those grounds.

Tuesday’s filing says that recent news stories about sexual misconduct in the district attorney’s office confirms that the county maintains disclosable records.

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In 2015, Deputy Dist. Attys. Beth Silverman and Tannaz Mokayef filed a lawsuit accusing their former supervisor, Gary Hearnsberger, of grabbing their buttocks and making sexual comments. The litigation resulted in a $700,000 settlement.

Attorneys for Mokayef said at least four other female employees of the district attorney’s office also complained internally that they were victims of sexual harassment and other misconduct by Hearnsberger, The Times has reported.

The petition also references a Los Angeles Daily News story on disciplinary actions taken against Deputy Dist. Atty. Edward Miller after sexual harassment allegations, saying that the reporting describes county documents that contain accusations of misconduct.

Reporting by The Times and other news agencies is “clearly demonstrating there are records nonexempt from disclosure,” said Kelly Aviles, an attorney representing The Times.

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The matter is scheduled to be heard at a court hearing Wednesday.

Times staff writer Matt Hamilton contributed to this report.


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