Wednesday, July 11, 2012
ACLU Sues Cooley and Baca, Says Exculpatory Evidence Is Being Concealed
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The ACLU of Southern California, joined by a local law firm and two law professors, filed suit yesterday against District Attorney Steve Cooley and Sheriff Lee Baca, claiming they are routinely withholding exculpatory evidence in violation of Brady v. Maryland and state law.
The ACLU/SC, as well as the firm Bird Marella and professors Charles Ogletree of Harvard and Michael Brennan of USC, claim the district attorney and the Sheriff’s Department “have enacted formal, official policies to evade the mandatory duties imposed by [state] laws and to violate the constitutional and statutory rights of countless criminal defendants.”
Baca and Cooley, they allege in their Los Angeles Superior Court complaint, “not only flout both their explicit statutory and constitutional duties and their inherent duties to see that justice is done, but they also undermine the reliability, fairness, and truth-seeking function of criminal trials every day in this county.”
The action, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court and styled Douglas v. Cooley, names local defense attorney Jeffrey Douglas as plaintiff and asks for injunctive and declaratory relief, as well as a writ of mandate directing Cooley and Baca to change their policies.
The complaint specifically claims that Cooley is violating Brady and its progeny by instructing prosecutors in the Brady Compliance Unit that Cooley established over 10 years ago not to turn over potentially exculpatory evidence unless there is “clear and convincing evidence that the potential Brady impeachment evidence is reliable and credible.”
The plaintiff further alleges that the district attorney is unlawfully prohibiting disclosure of evidence relevant to ongoing administrative or criminal investigations, and mandating “suppression of exculpatory evidence if a deputy district attorney speculates, pre-trial, that it is unlikely to affect the verdict”
The complaint also says that the Sheriff’s Department, as a matter of policy, places inmate assault complaints against deputies only in the inmates’ files, not the deputies,’ making it impossible for defense lawyers to determine whether a particular deputy who is testifying against the lawyer’s client has been the subject of a complaint.
The ACLU/SC said it had also filed a State Bar complaint against Cooley, and that it wants an independent counsel appointed and a civil grand jury investigation.
“The policies of District Attorney Cooley and Sheriff Baca challenged in this lawsuit have for over a decade now corrupted LA criminal trials into truth-concealing perversions of justice: a system of injustice for all criminal defendants,” ACLU/SC Chief Counsel Mark Rosenbaum said in a statement.
Cooley responded with a statement of his own, calling the suit “a blatant attempt to mislead the public and the court.” He added that he was ‘confident that our Brady policy complies with the highest constitutional and statutory standards.”
A sheriff’s spokesperson told The Associated Press that the department hadn’t seen the complaint but it hadn’t done anything inappropriate or illegal.
The ACLU/SC elaborated in a press release:
“Numerous reports by advocacy organizations, monitors, and media outlets have documented that deputy-on-inmate violence is commonplace in the Los Angeles County Jails. These investigations have also confirmed that abused inmates are regularly charged for alleged assault on any deputy involved. These charges serve to cover up deputy misconduct because threat of serious jail time for these felonies frequently results in plea bargains, which insulate the county and the individual deputies from potential civil liability and protect the deputies from disciplinary or criminal proceedings for their abuse.
“The policies adopted by Mr. Cooley and Sheriff Baca fuel this practice, because they assure that evidence in the possession of the Sheriff’s Department and District Attorney that is favorable to the defendant in such cases is concealed. The suit identifies several examples where the District Attorney’s Office and Sheriff’s Department suppressed such evidence, but the defendant fortuitously discovered it on his own, resulting in either dismissal of the charges or an acquittal at trial.”
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company