Court Rules Orange County District Attorney Produce Prosecutorial Data under Racial Justice Act

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By Audrey Sawyer

SANTA ANA, CA — A hearing held here this week saw Orange County Superior Court Judge Schwarm reject District Attorney Todd Spitzer’s efforts to prohibit all access to the public of prosecutorial data since the Racial Justice Act (RJA) was enacted in 2021.

During the hearing, Spitzer’s attorneys did not contest the court’s tentative opinion and committed to produce prosecutorial data within 30 days.

Chicanxs Unidxs de Orange County, the ACLU Foundations of Southern California and Northern California, and the Peace and Justice Law Center brought a case challenging the DA’s violation of the PRA (Public Records Act) on Oct. 18, 2022, resulting in the court’s tentative opinion.

Gabriela Hernandez, speaking as plaintiff for Chicanxs Unidxs, said, “For two years now, the OCDA has illegally held Racial Justice Act data from the public. The court has made it clear OCDA owes the public that data.”

Hernandez added, “Chicanxs Unidxs will use this information to help the people overcharged by Spitzer’s office to make sure they get fair treatment in court. When we filed the lawsuit, Spitzer’s office said it was a frivolous lawsuit and completely divorced from reality. What happened in court shows that was a lie.”

Emi MacLean, senior staff attorney at the ACLU Foundation of Northern California and counsel for plaintiffs argued, “Injustice thrives in secrecy. For years, DA Spitzer has tried to hide information from the public about how his office prosecutes people.”

MacLean noted, “Yesterday, a judge finally rejected those efforts. DA Spitzer will now start producing important records critical to implementing the Racial Justice Act. Transparency has won. This victory is critical to accountability and the public’s right to know what prosecutors are doing in our name.”

Prior to the enactment of the Racial Justice Act (RJA), the OCDA readily disclosed prosecutorial data pursuant to the PRA upon request, said the plaintiffs.

But, they added, weeks after the RJA became law in early 2021, the DA had reversed course by establishing an office-wide policy, a prohibition on access to all prosecutorial data. The court rejected the policy, acknowledging the PRA requires disclosure of anonymized prosecutorial data.

The court scheduled a status conference to determine the OCDA’s further compliance with the PRA for Sept. 26 and a subsequent hearing Dec. 19.

About The Author

Audrey is a senior at UC San Diego majoring in Political Science (Comparative Politics emphasis). After graduation, Audrey plans on attending graduate school and is considering becoming a public defender.

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