From California First Amendment Coalition: As part of a legal settlement with the First Amendment Coalition, the Los Angeles County Jail has agreed to pull back its veil of secrecy on the identities of persons who visit incarcerated public officials.
The jail’s prior policy had been to withhold—on grounds of privacy-protection–the names of visitors to all jail inmates. Going forward, the state’s biggest jail will apply a “presumption” of access when the requests (made under the Public Records Act) relate to public officials.
FAC was represented in the litigation by Jean-Paul Jassy of Jassy Vick LLP in LA.
The settlement grows out of a suit by FAC for access to the visitor logs for one of the LA jail’s high-profile inmates, John Noguez, the embattled LA County Assessor who faces multiple felony counts for bribery, embezzlement and related public corruption charges. Noguez was arrested in October 2012 following a political corruption probe into allegations that the Assessor’s Office lowered property tax bills in exchange for campaign contributions.
FAC filed a public record request after being approached by journalists who had been denied access to the visitor logs. Lawyers for the jail said the records must be withheld to protect the privacy of Noguez’s visitors. FAC argued that Noguez’s visitors had no expectation of privacy in view of the gauntlet of security personnel and screenings that they had to pass through to reach Noguez.
“It’s hard to imagine a less private interaction than a prison visit,” said FAC executive director Peter Scheer. “You have to pass through a metal detector; you’re subject to pat-down searches; you’re scrutinized by police and other security personnel at every step; and your movements are recorded on video.”
“Privacy is the last word that comes to mind,” Scheer continued. “This is the legal equivalent of standing before a live, network TV camera in the middle of Times Square at rush hour.” Scheer said.
FAC was represented in the litigation by Jean-Paul Jassy of Jassy Vick LLP in LA. In addition to disclosing the visitor logs and agreeing to change the jail’s policy, the county agreed to pay FAC $5,000 in legal fees.
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