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PLN files suit against Los Angeles County, CA over public records request

Daily Journal, Jan. 1, 2009.
PLN files suit against Los Angeles County, CA over public records request - Daily Journal 2009

By Greg Katz
Daily Journal Staff Writer

LOS ANGELES - A nonprofit legal magazine sued Los Angeles County Tuesday, seeking records of litigation payouts involving the county's jails.

Prison Legal News, a Virginia-based monthly publication that covers prison issues nationwide, claims the county violated the California Public Records Act by turning down a request for information regarding jail-related litigation between 2002 and 2008, according to the complaint filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

The county's jails have been the sites of murders and riots in recent years, and the publication wants to see the records in order to shed further light on the cost of such incidents to taxpayers, said its editor Paul Wright.

"This being taxpayer money and everything, the public certainly has a right to know what's going on with it," Wright said.

The magazine's lawyer, Elizabeth Eng of Rosen, Bien & Galvan in San Francisco, said the magazine wants to know about everything from slip-and-falls to inmates' injuries and deaths. She said the county turned down the request in February 2008, saying it was too broad, but since then has not responded to attempts by the magazine to clarify its request or come to a resolution.

"We have a client that's a public interest publication that's just trying to access information to which it has a right and we've pretty much been stonewalled by the defendants, so hopefully this will get them moving," Eng said.

According to the magazine's filing, the county turned down the request because it could not "search for, locate, review and copy [the records requested] within any reasonable amount of time" because the request was too large.

"They told us that they believed that some of the documents we seek might be exempt from the Public Records Act," Eng said. "However, there's nothing in the Public Records Act that says you need not produce anything if you think some things are exempt."

County officials declined to comment, but a spokeswoman said county legal settlements over $20,000 are published online.

The case is Prison Legal News v. Los Angeles County, BS119336 (L.A. Super. Ct., filed March 3, 2009).