Case Number: 12-cv-00428
Court: U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Western Division
Client: Los Angeles Times
Motion to Unseal Filed: Aug. 7, 2023
Background: In 2012, two inmates filed a class action lawsuit alleging a “pattern of brutality” in the Los Angeles County jails in violation of their Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. After years of litigation, the parties reached a settlement agreement that included a requirement that the jail system implement a plan to be developed by an expert panel to prevent the use of excessive force against inmates.
In May 2023, the plaintiffs moved the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California to modify that implementation plan, arguing that the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department had failed to adequately address violence in the jails. To substantiate those allegations, the plaintiffs relied on “Use of Force Reports and Videos” that document possibly excessive force — all of which were filed with the district court entirely under seal.
On behalf of the Los Angeles Times, which has extensively covered allegations of abuses and mismanagement in the Los Angeles County jail system, Reporters Committee attorneys filed a motion to intervene and unseal the use-of-force materials. The newspaper argues, among other things, that the strong presumption of access to judicial records attaches to the use-of-force materials, and that sealing cannot be justified in light of the powerful public interest in access to the records.
Quote: “The extraordinary public interest in the bleak conditions at Los Angeles County jails that are subject to federal oversight — and recurring questions about the safety of those working and detained there — overwhelmingly favors access, to enable the public to evaluate the performance of the officials responsible.”
Related: In 2022, Reporters Committee attorneys helped the Los Angeles Times unseal court records related to the Justice Department’s closed insider-trading investigation of U.S. Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.). The records shed light on the lawmaker’s stock trades around the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and how officials navigated an investigation into a sitting member of Congress. The records were unsealed following a lengthy legal battle to help the public understand the grounds for which the government sought — and obtained — a search warrant for Burr’s phone in May 2020.
Updates: On Sept. 12, 2023, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California issued an order indicating that it plans to release the videos, with narrow redactions.
2023-08-07: Motion to intervene and unseal