The Los Angeles Times need not disclose its reporters’ sources and unpublished information as requested by Los Angeles County amid a fight over access to public records in the Sheriff’s Department and other county agencies, an LA County judge ruled Tuesday.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Mary Strobel said the county does not need to know why the LA Times wants the public records. She said it was unclear how the background information on an LA Times investigation would help her resolve whether the county has a duty to disclose those records.
In March 2018, the LA Times claimed the County of Los Angeles violated the California Public Records Request Act by withholding records from the Sheriff’s Department and records about sexual misconduct and harassment claims made against county employees.
The requests by reporters Maya Lau, Nicole Santa Cruz, Marisa Gerber and assistant editor Jack Leonard were either denied or they received no response from county counsel, the paper claims.
In October 2018, the county asked the LA Times to produce evidence including documents related to their requests. The Times objected to all the requests, claiming the requests were overly burdensome and designed to harass, and sought an order barring discovery from its reporters citing California’s shield law and First Amendment reporter’s privilege.
Arguing for the county Tuesday, Liebert Cassidy Whitmore attorney Sarah Lustig said the county complied with requests made by the Times and does not want to be blindsided by the newspaper at future hearings – hence the discovery request.
“We’d like to know what they got,” Lustig said, adding it might be necessary to interview sources to know who the LA Times spoke with in relation to investigations on homicide data, sexual harassment or misconduct records and other requests.
Attorney Kelly Ann Aviles questioned why the county would respond to one records request and then ask for discovery.
Later, Strobel asked if the county could produce the records. Lustig said it was taking a while for the county to sort through its own information.
In the end, Strobel said it was premature for the LA Times to argue shield law protection but agreed the county’s request for discovery had no relevance to the public records case. She granted the protective order except as it relates to one request.
The parties are scheduled back in court in February 2020.
— By Nathan Solis