A federal magistrate has ruled that files compiled by Orange County Sheriff Brad Gates in his criminal investigation of Municipal Judge Bobby D. Youngblood must be turned over to Youngblood for review in his civil lawsuit against Gates.
U.S. Magistrate Ralph J. Geffen also suggested that Gates' investigation "may have bordered on over-zealousness and the plaintiffs' civil rights may have been violated." The magistrate did not elaborate.
Attorneys for Gates have maintained that the investigative records should remain confidential to protect "informants and witnesses."
But in a ruling filed last week in Los Angeles federal court, Geffen said the case raises the question of how long authorities can cite a continuing investigation to keep information confidential.
Geffen cited precedent for finding that "this privilege would not apply indefinitely."
"In (this) case," Geffen wrote, "the investigation of the plaintiffs was initiated almost three years ago and has failed to lead to an indictment by the Orange County Grand Jury."
Youngblood, private investigator George Patrick Bland and Rancho Santiago College instructor George Wright sued Gates in 1983 for $10 million, contending that the sheriff had harassed and spied on them for political reasons. Youngblood has announced he will run against Gates for sheriff next year, while Bland and Wright were unsuccessful candidates against Gates in 1982 and 1978, respectively.
Attorney James Slack, who represents Gates in the lawsuit, said Monday that he will appeal the magistrate's ruling, which concerns two boxes of documents and audio tapes previously turned over by Gates to the court for review.
Geffen's ruling directly contradicts a ruling a year ago by Magistrate J.R. Kronenberg, who found that the files "contain evidence of an ongoing investigation based on complaints" and that there was "no evidence of an excessive investigation."
But after a year, Geffen wrote: "The documents and files . . . fail to prove that the investigation is still continuing, nor (has Gates) shown or even contended that the plaintiffs will have criminal charges brought against them as a result of the investigation."
Michael Cisarik, attorney for Youngblood, said Monday: "We know they are not going to file (criminal charges).
Slack said the reports should remain confidential to protect the investigation of Youngblood and Bland, which he said "is ongoing." Slack refused to disclose what alleged crimes are being investigated. There is no investigation of Wright, he added.
Slack said the magistrate's ruling was erroneously based on the belief that Gates has not filed necessary papers to invoke the privilege of confidentiality.
But Cisarik said the papers filed by Gates fail to explain in adequate detail why any of the investigative documents should be kept confidential.
"At this stage of the proceedings," Geffen ruled, "plaintiffs' need to discover (information) in . . . their civil rights case predominates over the nebulous danger surrounding disclosure of the informants in a moribund investigation."