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LAPD, Union Settle Lawsuit

Compromise is reached over type of disciplinary material that can be kept in personnel files.

March 07, 2004|Anna Gorman | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles Police Department and the union representing its officers have agreed to end a lawsuit with a compromise over what disciplinary material can be kept in personnel files.

In approving the settlement, a federal judge rejected an argument by the Los Angeles County public defender's office that the deal would make it easier for the department to conceal records of police misconduct.

"I think the settlement is fair; it's reasonable," said Judge A. Howard Matz after a hearing Thursday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.

The agreement ends a class-action lawsuit filed in 2000 by the Los Angeles police officers' union, accusing former Chief Bernard C. Parks of violating officers' constitutional rights.

The disciplinary letters at issue reflected that officers were being removed from field duties because Parks believed they would no longer make credible witnesses in court.

Under the agreement, letters would now report when an officer's duty was restricted, but no further explanation would be given.

The department stopped using the old letters, known as Brady letters, after Parks left the department in May 2002. The settlement also gives officers the right to appeal the placing of letters in their personnel files, which Parks did not allow.

The old letters hurt officers' careers by preventing them from getting special assignments and promotions, said Elizabeth Silver Tourgeman, who represents the Los Angeles Police Protective League.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that prosecutors must give defense lawyers any evidence that might impeach a government witness, including information about a police officer's disciplinary history. That disclosure requirement was at the heart of the lawsuit.

The public defender's office objected to the settlement, saying removal of the Brady letters from the personnel files violated defendants' rights.

The city is "hiding the information and making it harder to get to," Deputy Public Defender Mark Harvis said. He said he thought defendants would suffer.

The settlement also provides that $350,000 be divided among 85 plaintiffs, plus about $36,000 in back pay for lost bonuses, and $150,000 in attorneys' fees.

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