Press Rights Trump LA Deputy Applicant Confidentiality

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s union cannot stop the Los Angeles Times from publishing news accounts that may contain background check information about applicants for deputy jobs, a state appeals court has said.

The Second District Court of Appeals Wednesday upheld dismissal of the union’s effort to halt publication citing a long line of free press rulings. (The case was originally decided July 21 but certified as a precedent-setting opinion Aug. 19.)

In 2010, the county decided to merge its Office of Public Safety with the LA Sheriff’s Department and OPS officers who want to work as deputies had to apply.

In 2013, the LA Times worked on a story about the disciplinary records of OPS officers applying for sheriff’s deputy jobs and contacted several applicants.

The Association of LA Deputy Sheriffs filed a complaint and sought a temporary restraining order against the newspaper seeking to prevent publication of what it terms release of confidential personnel, education, medical and credit information.

The trial judge denied the request after the Times filed an anti-SLAPP motion, claiming this was a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.

A SLAPP lawsuit is generally intended to silence critics by using the courts to scare away or silence critics through costly and time-consuming litigation.

The anti-SLAPP motion allows the defendant, in this case the LA Times, to have the case immediately thrown out if it is shown to be an unconstitutional attempt to silence opposition.

The court pointed out the application forms did not indicate they were confidential.

The appeals court said the first problem with the union’s argument is that “any privacy right in the information contained in deputies’ employment applications belongs to the deputies (and their employer, LASD), not to the deputies’ labor union.”

In addition, the injunction sought by the union would not be “content neutral at all,” the court said.

Case: Association for LA Deputy Sheriffs v. Los Angeles Times, No. # B253083

 

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