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Judges Block Merger of Sheriff's, Marshal's Agencies


In defiance of state and county laws, Los Angeles' municipal judges on Wednesday ordered the marshal's office to stop preparing for a merger with the Sheriff's Department.

The marshal's office complied, ordering about 15 sheriff's deputies off the premises of the marshal's Downtown headquarters and stopping issuance of new sheriff's uniforms and identification cards to 715 sworn marshals, said Capt. Steve Day of the marshal's office.

"Until Jan. 1, when the merger officially goes into effect, we work for the judges and we're obligated to do what they tell us to," Day said.

The Los Angeles Municipal Court Judges Assn. plans to follow Wednesday's order with a lawsuit contesting the constitutionality of a state law adopted earlier this year that allows the Board of Supervisors to order consolidation of the two law enforcement agencies to save about $11.2 million annually.

"The marshals have proven to be very responsive to the needs of the courts," said Downey Municipal Judge Donald L. Wilson, vice chairman of the judges' association. "The marshal's plan would have saved the same amount of money so there's no good reason why they should be replaced," Wilson said.

The judges' order surprised supervisors, who reacted angrily. Chairwoman Yvonne Brathwaite Burke said the board could fire marshals who refused to comply with the merger by Jan. 1, the day it becomes effective.

"It's ridiculous," Burke said. "It would be very unfortunate if people have to lose jobs over this for refusing to go forward."

The merger, which was approved by the supervisors after the state passed legislation authorizing it, has also been challenged by criminal defendant Frank J. Espinoza.

Espinoza filed a lawsuit last month against the county, contending that his right to a fair trial on pandering charges would be compromised by having sheriff's deputies testify against him and provide security in Municipal Court. County attorneys noted that sheriff's deputies have long served as bailiffs in Superior Court without violating anyone's right to a fair trial.

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