SCHEER–As part of a legal settlement with the First Amendment Coalition, the Los Angeles County Jail has agreed to pull back its veil of secrecy on the identities of persons who visit incarcerated public officials.
The jail’s prior policy had been to withhold—on grounds of privacy-protection–the names of visitors to all jail inmates. Going forward, the state’s biggest jail will apply a “presumption” of access when the requests (made under the Public Records Act) relate to public officials.
FAC was represented in the litigation by Jean-Paul Jassy of Jassy Vick LLP in LA.
The settlement grows out of a suit by FAC for access to the visitor logs for one of the LA jail’s high-profile inmates, John Noguez, the embattled LA County Assessor who faces multiple felony counts for bribery, embezzlement and related public corruption charges. Noguez was arrested in October 2012 following a political corruption probe into allegations that the Assessor’s Office lowered property tax bills in exchange for campaign contributions.
FAC filed a public record request after being approached by journalists who had been denied access to the visitor logs. Lawyers for the jail said the records must be withheld to protect the privacy of Noguez’s visitors. FAC argued that Noguez’s visitors had no expectation of privacy in view of the gauntlet of security personnel and screenings that they had to pass through to reach Noguez.
“It’s hard to imagine a less private interaction than a prison visit,” said FAC executive director Peter Scheer. “You have to pass through a metal detector; you’re subject to pat-down searches; you’re scrutinized by police and other security personnel at every step; and your movements are recorded on video.”
“Privacy is the last word that comes to mind,” Scheer continued. “This is the legal equivalent of standing before a live, network TV camera in the middle of Times Square at rush hour.” Scheer said.
So who came to visit Noguez? During the period October 2012 through February 2013 (the period covered by FAC’s record request), he received two visits from an aide to state Sen. Ronald Calderon. (See visitor log, embedded below). The San Gabriel Valley senator has been embroiled in allegations of political corruption following an FBI search of his office and the leak of an FBI affidavit discussing Calderon in connection with an ongoing criminal probe.
Noguez remains in jail while trying to raise funds for his bail, which was set at $1 million. Noguez also continues to hold the position of County Assessor, a job to which he was elected (and from which he cannot be removed unless convicted of a crime). Moreover, he continues to draw his Assessor’s $200,000 salary.
As part of the settlement with FAC, the LA County Jail agreed to adhere to the following policy:
“The identity of visitors to inmates at the Los Angeles County Jails is information that falls under the California Public Records Act (CPRA). With regard to inmates who are also high-ranking public officials, as defined in Government Code section 82048 and also to include judicial officers and high-ranking officials of the federal government, given their unique status and the public’s interest, there is a rebuttable presumption that the identity of their visitors while incarcerated shall be made available to the public under the CPRA.” (See actual document, embedded below).
FAC was represented in the litigation by Jean-Paul Jassy of Jassy Vick LLP in LA. In addition to disclosing the visitor logs and agreeing to change the jail’s policy, the county agreed to pay FAC $5,000 in legal fees.
Here is the disclosed Jail log showing visitors to Noguez:
Here is the LA County Jail’s agreement to policy change:
Here is a link to the Petition for Writ of Mandate Ordering Compliance with the CPRA, 2/22/2013
For more information, contact:
Jean-Paul Jassy 310-870-7048
Peter Scheer 415-886-7081