Tuesday, June 6, 2017
ACLU to Receive New Hearing on Jail-Beatings Invoices
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The ACLU of Southern California appears likely to gain further tallies of attorney fees expended in connection with actions over conditions in Los Angeles County jails—but not the details of the expenditures which it seeks, in light of an opinion yesterday by Div. Three of this district’s Court of Appeal.
The unpublished opinion comes as an aftermath to the California Supreme Court’s Dec. 29 4-3 holding in Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors v. Superior Court, 2 Cal.5th 282, that “invoices for work in pending and active legal matters” are not disclosable under the Public Records Act.
Such invoices “are so closely related to attorney-client communications that they implicate the heartland of the privilege,” Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar wrote, for the majority.
The county had proffered fee information relating to three lawsuits relating to excessive force in the jails, with attorney-client privileged and work product information redacted. It declined to reveal information in connection with six pending suits.
Then-Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Luis Lavin (now a member of the Court of Appeal for this district) in 2013 ordered the invoices relating to pending matters be disclosed. Div. Three granted a writ blocking that order, holding, in an opinion by Justice Richard Aldrich, that invoices for work in past and present cases are privileged.
The Supreme Court’s majority took a middle position. Cuéllar said:
“[T]he contents of an invoice are privileged only if they either communicate information for the purpose of legal consultation or risk exposing information that was communicated for such a purpose. This latter category includes any invoice that reflects work in active and ongoing litigation.”
Wants Further Information
On remand, the ACLU argued it should receive additional information. Four of the six jail-brutality cases that were previously pending have now been resolved, and it wants copies of the invoices—but with more information than just the total sums billed.
Aldrich said in yesterday’s opinion:
“We agree that the matter must be remanded for a hearing as to whether fee totals related to concluded matters must be disclosed. Los Angeles County explained that ‘fee totals in legal matters that concluded long ago’ ‘may not’ be confidential….Whether such fee totals must be disclosed under the PRA depends on ‘whether those amounts reveal anything about legal consultation’ or ‘communicate[ ] anything privileged’ by providing insight into litigation strategy or legal consultation.... Thus, whether disclosure of fee totals in long-concluded litigation is privileged is a factual question for the trial court in the first instance.”
Total Amounts, Only
He went on to say:
“The ACLU is incorrect, however, that the superior court must review other redacted portions of the invoices in concluded matters. Los Angeles County’s conclusion that information in billing invoices is sometimes subject to PRA disclosure appears to be limited to fee totals. Los Angeles County explained that whether the attorney-client privilege applies turns on whether amounts billed reveal anything about legal consultation….
“When discussing information that might be unprivileged after a matter concludes, Los Angeles County pointedly did not discuss billing entries or other aspects of an attorney’s invoice. Instead, it expressly limited its analysis to ‘fee totals.’…The ACLU, of course, seeks information in the invoices precisely because it wishes to discern the County’s legal strategy and uncover the nature of the work performed. Under Los Angeles County, these matters fall within the ‘heartland’ of the privilege….
“Other than fee totals, we can conceive of nothing likely to be contained in a typical billing invoice besides time entries, that is, information from the lawyer to the client regarding the amount and nature of work performed. According to Los Angeles County, information regarding such billing entries is within the scope of the privilege.”
The case is County of Los Angeles Board of Supervisors v. Superior Court, B257230.
Copyright 2017, Metropolitan News Company