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Judge refuses to relent on LAPD car impound policy

September 23, 2013|By Joel Rubin

A judge Monday said he would not set aside his recent decision to strike down the Los Angeles Police Department's controversial car impound policy, throwing the question of when cops can impound vehicles of unlicensed drivers into further uncertainty.

Last month, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Terry Green announced in court that he had concluded the LAPD's impound policy violates state law.

Green's finding came in a lawsuit brought against the city and LAPD by the Police Protective League, the union that represents rank-and-file Los Angeles cops.

City and police officials, along with a group of civil rights and immigration advocacy organizations that support the impound rules, announced plans to appeal the ruling and asked Green to table his decision until a state appeals court could rule on the case.

Green's refusal to do so means the defenders of the impound policy now must look to the appeals court to issue a stay of the judge's ruling, said Michael Kaufman, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, which is part of the lawsuit.

If that request is denied, Kaufman said, the LAPD would have no choice but to toss out its current impound rules, at least until the outcome of the appeal -- a process that could take several months.

"There are real concerns about what will happen in the coming weeks and months if Special Order 7 is suspended," said Kaufman, referring to the directive from LAPD Chief Charlie Beck that put the new impound rules in place.

Under the terms of the order, officers are expected to continue impounding cars when they discover a person driving without a valid license. But unlike the LAPD's previous policy, the order bars officers from imposing a 30-day hold on a vehicle when a driver meets several criteria -- including having auto insurance, valid identification and no previous citations for unlicensed driving.

Officers were also told to forgo impounding a vehicle in cases in which a licensed driver is in the car or able to arrive "immediately."

The new rules were needed to give officers a clear understanding on how to apply two somewhat vague sections of the state vehicle code that deal with impounds, Beck and others have argued.

Union officials countered in their lawsuit that the impound rules illegally stripped officers of the discretion granted to them in the state laws to decide in some cases when to impose the more harsh 30-day hold on a car.

“We are pleased with the ruling today,” said the union's president, Tyler Izen. “LAPD officers were caught in the middle of a legal controversy over whether they were vested with the authority to impound vehicles driven by unlicensed drivers as required by the State Vehicle Code, or follow LAPD Special Order No. 7."

Beck has presented the issue as a matter of fairness and public safety. The loss of a car for a month and the fees and fines that can run over $1,000 to retrieve it, disproportionately affects the 400,000 immigrants estimated to be in the country illegally and living in L.A., since they cannot legally obtain driver's licenses, Beck said. Under Special Order 7, he said, unlicensed drivers would be motivated to take responsible steps such as buying insurance.

Beck on Monday declined to comment on Green's refusal to set his ruling aside, saying he hadn't yet been brought up to speed by city attorneys. He reiterated his belief that the department thoroughly vetted the legality of the impound rules before they went into effect.  

Through a spokesman, City Atty. Mike Feuer declined to comment on Green's decision today.

Green has not yet issued a formal, written judgment in the case but is expected to do so in coming days, Kaufman said. Once he does so, attorneys can submit their request for a stay with the appeals court, which would probably take several weeks before making a decision. During that time, Kaufman said, he was hopeful the appeals court would keep Special Order 7 in effect.

ALSO:

LAPD's vehicle-impound rules violate state law, judge rules

LAPD: New impound law shows 'compassion' for illegal immigrants

 Twitter: @joelrubin

joel.rubin@latimes.com

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