Up until Jan. 1, California was known for being one of the most secretive states in the nation when it came to access to police records. That was supposed to change with a new law that paved the way for access to records long out of public view.
But as SB 1421 went into effect, a law firm representing police unions quietly mounted a coordinated challenge. Rains Lucia Stern St. Phalle & Silver has been arguing in various courts across the state that the law does not apply retroactively.
"The law is not clear," Tom Dominguez, the president of the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs told KPCC/LAist. His group is among those in court to prevent the release of records that predate Jan. 1 of this year. "We are making sure our members rights are protected."
Attorneys for Orange County had signaled they intended to release records regardless of when the records were created.
Now, California newsrooms are banding together to fight for public access.
- In Orange County, KPCC/LAist, Los Angeles Times and Voice of OC are seeking to intervene in a lawsuit filed by the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs.
- In Los Angeles, the Times has taken similar steps in a case brought by the Los Angeles Police Protective League.
- And in a case brought by the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Employee Benefits Association, KQED joined the California News Publishers Association, the First Amendment Coalition and the Times to make their voices heard.
In each case, the positions remain the same. The unions contend the law does not apply retroactively. The publishers and their advocates argue it does.