LOS ANGELES - A federal appeals court has temporarily halted new LAPD financial disclosure rules for gang and narcotics officers who routinely handle cash and contraband, and set a December hearing on the policy.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last Friday issued the temporary injunction without comment on the merits of the case brought by the Los Angeles Police Protective League, which claims that revealing police finances violated state privacy laws. Los Angeles Police Protective League v. Los Angeles, CV08-00784 (C.D. Cal., filed Feb. 5, 2008). The Police Commission approved the disclosure rules last December as part of the consent decree between the U.S. Department of Justice and the city related to the Rampart Division corruption scandal.
If adopted, the rules will apply to roughly 600 officers and make public their personal income, debt, investments, partnerships and other business interests to curb potential payoffs and embezzlements that plagued the department in the past.
Richard A. Levine, a name partner of Silver, Hadden, Silver, Wexler & Levine, represents the police union in the case and said Friday's injunction will halt the policy until the court can fully consider the merits of their case.
"The policy is seriously invasive when you look at the scope of it - all their debt, all their liability and all joint tenants on any accounts would be disclosed," Levine said. "The complication is that this information and any analysis by the department of the information will become subject to [discovery motions], which will heighten the risk of disclosure of their protected private financial information.
"And if officers do not comply, they cannot remain in assignments or be eligible to further assignments."
U.S. District Court Judge Gary Feess sided with the city last month, denying the police union's preliminary injunction and lifting a temporary stay in the case.
The union appealed the ruling on the same day.
Anthony Pacheco, a partner at Praskauer Rose, serves as the president of the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners, which oversees police department policy. Pacheco said the city's case was still very strong on its merits. He said the injunction and resulting delay were expected.
"I am sure they are going to look at the substance of the consent decree on states' rights and I am sure they will look at the entirety of the issue," Pacheco said. "On a substantive level, I feel very confident on the issues as raised - and very confident in Judge Feess' ruling - and confident the 9th Circuit will give us a fair hearing."
Pacheco said the city was prepared to defend the policy in state court if necessary. Lawyers from the city attorney's office, led by senior Assistant City Attorney Mike Claessens, represent the city and the commission.
A panel of the 9th Circuit will now consider whether Feess erred in not remanding the case back to state court, where it was originally filed, and whether Feess should have been recused from the case. Levine challenged Feess' impartiality in March and motioned to have the judge removed. He based the motion on statements Feess from the bench during a hearing in the case filed by the DOJ against the city related to the Rampart investigation. In 2006, Feess denied a stipulation in the federal case against the city, which would have removed the financial disclosure requirement from the consent decree. But U.S. District Court Judge Stephen V. Wilson reviewed the statements made by Feess and ruled that none undermined his impartiality in the union's case.
Parties are now preparing briefs and will present their cases to the appeals court at a hearing scheduled for Dec. 8.