A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge did not find “any irregularity” with the way the Sheriff’s Department obtained search warrants for the homes and offices of Supervisor Sheila Kuehl and other county officials, according to a hearing Thursday, Sept. 22.

Still, Judge William Ryan ruled he would not allow either the sheriff’s detectives, or the Attorney General’s Office, which took over the case this week, to search the seized computers and cellphones until he could appoint a third party, called a special master, to weed out any information protected by attorney-client privilege.

“I am going to appoint a special master because of the claims of privilege,” he said. “I think that needs to be overseen.”

Ryan originally had questioned why the sheriff’s detectives went to a different judge, instead of Judge Eleanor Hunter, who was already presiding over legal challenges to nearly identical search warrants executed by the Sheriff’s Department last year.

Previous court order

In court filings ahead of the hearing, attorneys for Kuehl and L.A. County Metro’s Office of the Inspector General accused the sheriff’s investigators of attempting to circumvent an existing order from Hunter that would have required a special master to participate in the raids and expressed concerns about the involvement of Judge Craig Richman, a longtime associate of Detective Mark Lillienfeld, a member of the sheriff’s Public Corruption Unit.

Sheriff’s Sgt. Max Fernandez originally tried to present the new warrants to Hunter, but she was not available, according to Ryan. The courts sent Fernandez to Richman instead and Richman chose not to appoint a special master, though Fernandez requested one.

“As far as I’m concerned, that puts to bed the issue of whether there was any irregularity in the obtaining of the search warrant,” Ryan said.

The targets of the searches have argued the warrants are overly broad and intrusive, but Ryan declined to rule on the merits of the probe, instead saying such a decision would likely be decided in the future by potentially another judge.

The Thursday hearing involved more than half a dozen attorneys, including separate representation for Kuehl, county oversight Commissioner Patricia Giggans, L.A. County Metro, Metro’s Office of the Inspector General, the sheriff and the attorney general.

Was Kuehl tipped off?

According to Ryan, investigators already have conducted about 50 searches — primarily from devices taken from Kuehl — and even worked overtime trying to determine if Kuehl was tipped off about the search warrants in advance. Kuehl, in an interview, said she received a text message the night before from the County Counsel’s Office about rumors that warrants would be executed the next morning. The Sheriff’s Department also has alleged that Giggans and her attorney greeted deputies at the door.

Kuehl’s attorney, Cheryl O’Connor, pointed to the rush to search Kuehl’s phones for the “tip off” as evidence the department was searching beyond the scope of the warrants. Ryan, in response, likened it to stumbling “across a dead body” while conducting a different investigation.

“It is a very serious allegation that the supervisor had been tipped off that this search was coming ahead of time,” Ryan said. “It’s potentially a felony.”

Lucrative contract

The Sheriff’s Department has indicated its probe is focused on contracts awarded by L.A. County Metro to Peace Over Violence, a nonprofit run by Giggans. Kuehl, a lifelong friend of Giggans, serves on Metro’s board of directors and also is listed as a member of Peace Over Violence’s advisory board. The contracts, which totaled $890,000 over a six-year period, never came before the board for a vote and were approved by CEO Phil Washington.

A whistleblower, whose complaints are the backbone of the sheriff’s case, alleges Kuehl pushed for the contracts behind the scenes. Kuehl has denied the allegations and accused Sheriff Alex Villanueva of targeting her and Giggans for their vocal criticism of him. Both clash frequently with him and have called for his resignation.

The Attorney General’s Office announced Tuesday, Sept. 20, it would take control of the investigation following a letter from Villanueva urging Attorney General Rob Bonta to investigate whether Kuehl had been tipped off. Bonta, in response, said he would take the entire case over because the two investigations are “intimately related.”

“In recent days, the public unfolding of an unprecedented investigation has raised serious questions for residents of Southern California and beyond,” Bonta said in a statement. “I recognize the deep uncertainty this has engendered and, given the unique circumstances, my team has committed to taking over this investigative process. Make no mistake: We are committed to a thorough, fair, and independent investigation that will help restore confidence for the people of our state. If there is wrongdoing by any party, we will bring it to light.”

Return of property

Much of the discussions at Thursday’s hearing revolved around how soon seized property could be returned.

The representatives for Kuehl and Giggans urged a speedy return of the computers and cellphones as their clients have suffered from the loss of the equipment. O’Connor, the attorney for Kuehl, said the supervisor was working from home and now only has access to a single cellphone to conduct county business.

“There is no reason taxpayers should have to purchase new devices in order for her to do her duties,” O’Connor said.

Attorney Austin Dove, who represents Giggans, said Peace Over Violence has been “crippled by this search warrant” after deputies seized both its server and the backup. The nonprofit is unable to serve its more than 600 clients as a result.

“Two weeks is death for my client,” Dove told the judge. “I don’t believe they can survive that long.”

Ryan ordered the Attorney General’s Office to determine if it could quickly digitally duplicate the devices and then return the physical hardware without hindering its investigation.

Susan Schwartz, a deputy attorney general, suggested Ryan order the Sheriff’s Department to turn over its investigatory records and the seized property within the next two weeks, but Ryan declined to do so, saying he wouldn’t force the matter unless the agency refused to cooperate. Fernandez, sitting in the audience, told the court his unit would meet the two-week deadline voluntarily.

Double representation

Though a sheriff’s spokesperson previously released a statement saying the County Counsel’s Office had fired the department’s attorney, two sets of attorneys turned up on its behalf, creating confusion in the court.

Bill Seki, the attorney appointed by the county to serve as the sheriff’s independent counsel, and Alan Jackson, an attorney hired in the last week without the approval of the Board of Supervisors, said they each represented the department.

“I have not been fired in any way,” Seki said. “I have tried to defend the Sheriff’s Department independent of any influence from county counsel, or the supervisors, or anyone else.”

Robert Dugdale, representing Metro and the county, said the county would not pay for Jackson’s representation and accused the sheriff of not following the proper protocols for hiring new counsel.

“The sheriff has counsel right now in the form of Mr. Seki,” Dugdale said. “He doesn’t get two counsel, certainly not on the county’s dime.”

Ryan ultimately let both attorneys participate and told the two sides they would need to take their dispute elsewhere for a formal ruling on the appropriateness of the hiring.

California

Products You May Like

Articles You May Like

Rockstar Games Confirms Hacker Stole Early Grand Theft Auto VI Footage
NASA spacecraft to crash into asteroid in test mission for future threats to Earth
Labour to fight back against Trussonomics tax giveaways at party conference
Hackers Targeting WebLogic Servers and Docker APIs for Mining Cryptocurrencies
Nurse stabbed in Panorama City hospital lobby, suspect on the loose

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.