Thursday, September 19, 2002
Davis Signs Measure to Protect Judges, Others Into Law
By ROBERT GREENE, Staff Writer
A bill authored by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James Brandlin to keep the home addresses of judges and public safety officials out of the hands of people who intend to cause them harm has been signed into law by Gov. Gray Davis.
Davis signed Assembly Bill 2238 late Tuesday. The measure prohibits posting the home address of a judge, elected official, public safety officer or their family members on the Internet with intent to cause bodily harm.
The bill, carried by Republican Assemblyman Dick Dickerson of Redding, is less sweeping that earlier versions that would have left out the intent element and would have required deleting home information for a broad class of officials from all public records, not just the Internet.
Also not in the final version of the bill is a provision allowing officials whose names are in public records to bar the sale of home address information to private vendors.
In place of those proposals the measure creates a task force to study how best to protect the sensitive data. Brandlin said he and Superior Court Commissioner Scott Gordon, who assisted him in crafting and lobbying the bill, will serve on the panel.
Gordon is a former Santa Monica police officer and prosecutor. Brandlin is a former sheriff’s deputy and deputy district attorney.
Attorney General Bill Lockyer is to chair the group. Brandlin said the panel would include representatives of business, law enforcement, the judiciary, tax assessors and county recorders. A report is due back from the task force in a year.
Opposition initially came from public records custodians such as county recorders who would have had to go through their documents and redact thousands of references to home addresses of the covered officials. Opposition evaporated when the bill was amended to cover only Internet postings made with intent to harm. No legislator in either house voted against the bill in its final form.
“Commissioner Gordon and I look forward to working with the Attorney General’s Office and other interested parties in finding a viable method for being able to protect home address information without interfering with private business or public agencies performing their tasks,” Brandlin said.
Existing law bars public agencies from posting home address information for public officials without consent, and makes threats against such officials punishable by up to three years in state prison.
But the bill’s supporters, including the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, the District Attorney’s Office and the Los Angeles County Bar Association said the law left open a crucial security hole—-posting home addresses on the Internet in retaliation for official actions, together with inflammatory language and calls for others to seek vengeance.
The measure makes it a misdemeanor to knowingly post the home address or telephone number of any elected or appointed official on the Internet with intent to cause imminent great bodily harm. If such harm actually does occur, the offense is chargeable as a felony.
Covered officials include judges and commissioners, district attorneys, city attorneys, public defenders and their attorney employees, city councils, boards of supervisors, state legislators, other elected officials and their appointees, and law enforcement officers.
Also included are prison guards and supervisors, and nonsworn employees of law enforcement groups.
In a recent issue of “Gavel to Gavel,” the Superior Court’s in-house newsletter, Brandlin cited several instances in which unhappy litigants and ex-convicts obtained judges’ home addresses and went to their houses. Law enforcement officers, deputy public defenders and prosecutors have reported similar experiences.
In one case, Brandlin wrote, the unit of the Sheriff’s Department charged with protecting judges noted that a suspect who already had served prison time for threatening judges was recently arrested—and at the time had in his possession the home addresses of nine Los Angeles Superior Court judges, as well as prosecutors.
Judges have become especially concerned with home security since the slayings three years ago of Superior Court Commissioner H. George Taylor and his wife at their home. The crimes remain unsolved, and investigators do not know how the killer obtained the Taylors’ home address.
Brandlin said the bill is one step toward protecting judges and other officials.
“Will it provide complete peace of mind? No,” he said, “because it doesn’t eliminate the threat.”
But he added that the task force mandate sets up a framework for looking into the open security issues..
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company