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California Supreme Court Rejects Sheriffs' Union's Attempt To Block New Open Records Law

There have been some pretty garbage responses to California's amendment of its open records laws, which rolls back the extreme level of opacity shielding police misconduct records. The City of Inglewood gave its police force a zero-accountability parting gift by granting it permission to destroy hundreds of officer-involved shooting files just prior to the new law taking effect.

Over in San Bernardino County, law enforcement -- or at least their union reps -- responded to the new law by petitioning the state Supreme Court for an injunction. The Sheriff's Employees' Benefit Association wanted the law blocked until it could be determined whether or not the law was retroactive. The union claimed making pre-2019 records available to the public would "violate [its] members' rights."

This ran contrary to the assessment of the actual Sheriff and the county's legal counsel, both of whom felt the law applied to old misconduct files.

“In anticipation of SB 1421 taking effect, the Sheriffs Department has been diligently reviewing the changes to the law and carefully considering how to implement these changes,” Blakemore wrote. “Based on this review, and on the advice of counsel, the Department intends to apply these changes retroactively.”

The union can't be thrilled about the new layer of accountability it will be facing going forward. But it seemed particularly aggrieved the new records law would affect old records it assumed would never be turned over to the public. The law doesn't state it only applies to records going forward, so it's reasonable to assume what was once considered non-public is now publicly-accessible.

The union has already heard back from the state's highest court and it's not getting the answer it wanted.

The California Supreme Court on Wednesday denied a sheriff union’s request to block a new state law that provides public access to past police-misconduct and use-of-force records.

The San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies’ union sought an emergency intervention from the California Supreme Court to block the new law before the New Year.

This won't stop the legal challenges to the law -- not as long as it's not crystal clear whether retroactivity applies. But this at least allows the law to move forward, ensuring that any records generated past the point of enactment are truly public records. Anything prior to January 2019 is going to be hit-and-miss, as it appears state law enforcement agencies don't have a unified take on the law. This will probably be resolved sooner than later, as requests for these previously-secret records are already flowing in.

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