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PLN sues Los Angeles County, CA under state public records law

Associated Press, March 4, 2009.
PLN sues Los Angeles County, CA under state public records law - Associated Press 2009

Prison magazine sues LA County for legal records

The Associated Press

Posted: 03/04/2009 12:56:17 PM PST

LOS ANGELES—A legal magazine dealing with prison issues has sued Los Angeles County seeking records of payouts in litigation involving the county's jails.

Prison Legal News, a nonprofit monthly publication that reports on prison issues nationwide and has a wide readership inside prisons, accused the county Sheriff's Department and the Office of County Counsel of violating the Public Records Act by keeping details of payouts secret.

PLN publisher Paul Wright of West Brattleboro, Vt., said that until fairly recently the county regularly posted such settlement and verdict information on its Web site, but that is no longer the case.

In the wake of jail murders and riots in recent years, Wright said he wants access to the records to find out the cost of such incidents to taxpayers.

But the attorney who filed the suit, Elizabeth Eng of San Francisco, told the Daily Journal legal newspaper that the magazine is seeking information on a wide range of cases from slip-and-falls to inmates' injuries and deaths.

The suit was filed Tuesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court. County officials did not immediately respond to calls from The Associated Press seeking comment.

According to the lawsuit, PLN's first request for the data in January 2008 was turned down by the county, which said it was too broad and it was not reasonably possible to search for, locate, review and copy the requested records within any reasonable amount of time.

The lawsuit added that on Nov. 26, 2008, the plaintiff sent the county counsel's office a letter offering multiple options for producing the documents "in a less burdensome fashion." It said no response has been received.

"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.