Los Angeles Superior Court Grants Injunction to End Money Bail for Low-Level, Non-Violent Offenses in LA County Jail

LOS ANGELES- CA, MARCH 2: Los Angeles Superior Court Stanley Mosk Courthouse March 2, 2004 in Los Angeles Hills, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***

By The Vanguard Staff

LOS ANGELES, CA – People arrested in low-level, non-violent offenses will not be required to pay money bail before they are released, per an historic preliminary injunction issued by the Los Angeles Superior Court Wednesday, according to a statement by criminal justice reform groups.

The PI ensures “people will no longer be detained because they are unable to pay cash bail,” and “requires the LA Sheriff’s Department and Los Angeles Police Department to follow a policy enacted during the pandemic in Los Angeles, home to the largest jail system in the country, that does not require bail,” said the groups. 

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lawrence Riff ruled that the plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit “demonstrated they are likely to succeed in showing that it is unconstitutional for LA County and City of LA to jail people between arrest and their first court date simply because they cannot afford to pay money bail,” the plaintiffs said.

“This ruling follows a months-long hearing, which included weeks of testimony from experts on the harms of wealth-based detention, which demonstrated that money bail undermines public safety,” said the groups in their statement.

Plaintiffs quoted the ruling, “[T]he uncontroverted evidence shows the PI will reduce the incidence of new criminal activity and failures to appear for future court proceedings . . . and decrease overcrowding at these Defendants’ jail facilities,” said the court, adding, “the defendants ‘do not dispute’ the plaintiffs’ arguments.”

The court also noted, they said, “many public officials in California” including LA’s own Probation Department and Board of Supervisors have expressed “profound doubts about the wisdom, fairness, and constitutionality of the pretrial money bail system that operates to detain arrestees in jail solely because they are too impoverished to pay money bail.”

Reform groups said, “Pursuant to today’s preliminary injunction, effective May 24, 2023, LAPD and the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department will no longer be able to jail individuals who would have been released under LA’s most recent ‘emergency bail schedule,’ which was implemented to reduce jail overcrowding during the pandemic.”

The groups noted, “The parties will then have until July 5, 2023 to work together to design ‘constitutionally sound, effective, concrete, administrable, and enforceable plans and procedures’ for pre-arraignment release of arrested individuals. The court expects the lawsuit to proceed to a trial on the merits in 2024.”

The class action lawsuit, Urquidi v. Los Angeles et. al, was filed in November 2022 on behalf of jailed individuals Phillip Urquidi, Terilyn Goldson, Daniel Martinez, Arthur Lopez, Susana Perez, and Gerardo Campos. 

They are joined as plaintiffs by an interfaith coalition of CLUE (Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice); its Executive Director Reverend Jennifer Gutierrez; Reverend Gary Bernard Williams, Pastor Saint Mark UMC and Board Member of CLUE; and Rabbi Aryeh Cohen, Professor of Rabbinic Literature, American Jewish University.

“Our clients were arrested and kept in jail for five days because they simply couldn’t pay money to buy their release,” said Public Justice’s Debtors’ Prison Project Senior Attorney Brian Hardingham. 

Hardingham added, “Pre-trial detention destroys lives, and we hope this ruling will pave the way for lasting policy changes that will strengthen and protect communities of color and low-income people disproportionately harmed by the for-profit bail industry.”

“The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has committed to closing Men’s Central Jail (MCJ) and reducing LA County’s dangerously high jail population but has failed to act. This ruling is an important step to reduce pretrial jailing, but now the Board must deliver on its promise to invest in the necessary community resources and care,” said Ambrose Brooks S., JusticeLA Coalition Coordinator.

“We are confident that LA County bail policies are unconstitutional, and look forward to proving that at trial. 

“While this case is still ongoing, we are pleased with Judge Riff’s ruling, which has an immediate impact on most individuals arrested in Los Angeles County,” said Munger, Tolles & Olson Chair Brad Brian, who with Salil Dudani of Civil Rights Corps argued the motion for the preliminary injunction. 

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