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L.A. County refuses to yield youth records

The Board of Supervisors defies a subpoena for records involving the deaths of children being supervised by the troubled Department of Children and Family Services.

August 01, 2011|By Garrett Therolf, Los Angeles Times

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said he had hoped the state and county could work out a compromise and had been disappointed by the interactions so far. "The attorney-client privilege is sacrosanct," he said, "but not every confidential document the state auditors wanted was necessarily privileged."

"Both sides took an all-or-nothing legal position. That was regrettable," he said, "because the documents would show how extensively the county investigates to ascertain the circumstances surrounding a child's death, and how to be more proactive in preventing such deaths in the future."

Supervisors Michael D. Antonovich, Don Knabe, Gloria Molina and Mark Ridley-Thomas did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

But aides to the supervisors said the elected leaders worried that auditors might publish all or some of the otherwise confidential documents in their resulting public report.

In communications with county officials, Reilly said that would not be a problem.

"In the course of our ongoing discussions, we have advised repeatedly that, just as it is a misdemeanor for county employees to refuse the bureau access to confidential information, it is a misdemeanor for any bureau employee to release it," Reilly said.

Reilly also accused the county of attempting to erode political support for the audit by contacting state lawmakers and mischaracterizing the auditor's efforts to obtain information. "Such conduct obviously undermines any good-faith meet-and-confer process," she said.

Los Angeles County has been repeatedly criticized in recent years for violating state law requiring it to release information regarding child fatality cases so that problems can be identified and remedied.

Under a law that went into effect in 2008, the department is required to release records to the press and other members of the public when a child dies after passing through the child welfare system. The county generally complied with the law initially, but after news reports about social worker error appeared in The Times, the release of records slowed.

In 2010, the county's Office of Independent Review found that child welfare officials asked law enforcement agencies if they had objections to the release of documents without giving them the chance to first review the records. The effect has been blanket objections to disclosure that resulted in "a virtual paralysis of the statute's intent," according to a report by the office's lead attorney, Michael Gennaco.

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