FAC Urges Appeal Court to Reject Ventura Sheriff Union’s Effort to Weaken Police Transparency Law

Ventura County Deputy Sheriffs’ Association v. County of Ventura et al.

Update March 3, 2021: The appeal court ruled in favor of transparency, finding that California’s SB1421 “Right to Know Act” applies to records created before the law took effect Jan. 1, 2019. Read the opinion.

Read the amicus brief filed by the First Amendment Coalition

Court: California’s Second District Court of Appeal 

About the case: On January 1, 2019, California’s landmark law known as SB 1421 took effect that made records concerning certain types of police misconduct and use-of-force subject to disclosure under the California Public Records Act. Law enforcement unions around the state began challenging the law in the courts before it took effect, arguing that it did not apply retroactively. Courts around the state — except the Ventura County Superior Court in this case — that have ruled on this question have determined that SB 1421 requires disclosure of pre-2019 records. In this case, the Ventura County Deputy Sheriffs’ Association made the same argument rejected by the First District Court of Appeal.

Our position: The Second District Court of Appeal should reverse the Ventura County Superior Court.

From the Brief: “[T]he Legislature clearly intended the law to require disclosure of the specified categories of records regardless of when the records were created. This Superior Court was not permitted to write into the statute [the union’s] requested temporal limitation, which is at odds with the plain language of the statute, unless it were unconstitutional to apply the law as it is written.” In conclusion, the brief states: “It is clear that the Legislature wanted broad access to reports of past as well as future instances involving the discharge of weapons, use of force, sexual assault, and dishonesty in order to promote public trust, and enable examination of patterns of conduct, and policies and procedures of agencies. By denying access to records of past misconduct, [the union’s] interpretation would defeat or severely constrain these purposes.” 

FAC is represented by Executive Director David Snyder and James Chadwick, Tenaya Rodewald and Andrea Feathers of the Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton. 

Date filed: Feb. 7, 2020

More: The First Amendment Coalition has brought numerous legal actions and submitted arguments to enforce compliance with SB 1421 and beat back attempts to weaken it. See cases in Contra Costa Superior Court, Los Angeles Superior Court, First District Court of Appeal and the California Supreme Court.

Read the March 3, 2021, opinion by the Second District Court of Appeal.