Riverside is the only CA county to completely disregard public records requests related to indigent defense
Special to the Vanguard
RIVERSIDE, CA – The ACLU Foundation of Southern California and Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP this week filed a lawsuit against Riverside County for violating the state’s Public Records Act (PRA) by refusing to respond to requests concerning how it provides competent legal counsel to indigent defendants. The plaintiff is the ACLU of Northern California.
In 2021, the ACLU of Northern California submitted PRA requests for records to all 58 California counties regarding how they provide legal counsel to people too poor to afford to hire defense lawyers in criminal matters.
Among the 58 counties subject to the identical PRA requests, Riverside was the only county to disregard the requests and therefore act with complete contempt for the public’s right to access vital information about how it protects the constitutional right to counsel.
“Riverside County stands alone in shutting out the public from viewing how it performs its duties,” said Eva Bitran, senior staff attorney at ACLU SoCal. “Riverside’s refusal to comply with its legal obligations harms the public and violates the California Constitution.”
Both the U.S. and California Constitutions guarantee a criminal defendant the right to legal counsel. Public records requests helped uncover Kern County’s practice of systematically denying poor misdemeanor defendants their constitutional rights to counsel and due process.
“For at least 20 months, Riverside County has wholly disregarded its obligations under the PRA and thwarted the PRA’s objectives,” said Phillip Wiese, associate at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP. “This behavior prevents public oversight of the county’s actions.”
The suit asks the court to declare Riverside County in violation of the PRA, to compel the county to perform its duties under the PRA, and to immediately produce all non-exempt, requested public records in their possession in response to the ACLU’s PRA request.
Read the complaint: here