Judge orders county back to emergency bail schedule  

This Signal file photo shows Pitchess Detention Center.
This Signal file photo shows Pitchess Detention Center.
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Citing no compelling evidence from the L.A. County Sheriff’s or Los Angeles Police departments, a judge issued a preliminary injunction reverting L.A. County to the COVID-era emergency bail schedule starting July 17, in a ruling issued last week. 

The ruling sprang from a request for a preliminary injunction from a handful of defendants suing local law enforcement agencies, who claim they served time in jail, two to five days in most cases, because they didn’t have the means and access to avoid pretrial detention. 

L.A. County Superior Court Judge Lawrence Riff noted the lack of any evidence from the police agencies, L.A. mayor’s office or the county’s Board of Supervisors to refute the plaintiffs’ contention that eliminating bail would not increase crime or the rate of suspects’ failures to appear. 

“The plaintiffs have shown that these defendants’ conduct in enforcing the secured money bail schedules against poor people who are detained in jail solely for the reason of their poverty is a clear, pervasive and serious constitutional violation,” Riff wrote in a 58-page ruling. “The parties estimate they will be ready for a trial on the merits in about 12 months.” 

The preliminary injunction has a 60-day abeyance to give the agencies involved time to propose new plans and procedures, which are requested by the court no later than July 5. 

L.A. County 5th District Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who represents the Santa Clarita Valley and has advocated for collaborating with law enforcement on efforts at bail reform, said Tuesday one’s placement in the criminal justice system shouldn’t be predicated upon their financial well-being. 

She noted the ruling was aimed at the rules for pretrial detention involving defendants who have yet to see a judge, not those who are accused of serious or violent felonies. 

Riff stated in his ruling that a money bail schedule that doesn’t take into account one’s ability to pay inherently puts the wealthy at an unfair advantage.  

“Fairness is a focus of the ruling,” Barger wrote Tuesday in an email from Helen Chavez, her communications director. “The problem at hand is that arrestees with sufficient wealth can post bail immediately and go free while others without means must stay in jail until their hearings.  Also, those arrested for violent felonies or certain serious misdemeanors are not protected by the injunction — and I fully support that. The judge ordered all the parties to come up with different pretrial detention rules within 60 days, with possible options including the use of electronic monitoring. I will continue tracking this issue closely.” 

District Attorney George Gascón, an ardent advocate for bail reform, did not respond to a request for comment on the ruling as of Tuesday afternoon. 

Deputy District Attorney Jon Hatami, a Valencia resident who recently announced his campaign for DA, also supported the judge maintaining the current bail schedule for serious and violent felonies. 

But he said via text Tuesday he was opposed to returning to a blanket policy that he felt made communities less safe. 

“I’m thankful that the judge kept the bail schedule as is for serious and violent felonies and for misdemeanor and felony domestic violence, sex crimes and child abuse. However, the $0 bail experiment clearly made Los Angeles County and my city of Santa Clarita less safe. I’m against oppressive money bail. But I’m also against blanket $0 bail. It’s dangerous.” 

Hatami’s advocacy for a case-by-case review speaks to one of the widespread problems that LAPD and LASD officers reported during the pandemic.  

The testimony of LASD Deputy Beau Topar, who has 16 years of experience at the county’s primary intake facility, the Inmate Reception Center in Los Angeles, was also noted in Riff’s ruling, which points to a problem with the analysis of recidivism data and bail policies.  

A third amendment of the county’s emergency bail schedule in October 2020 — which is the version being implemented by Riff — cites that the bail “exception does not apply to those whose subsequent separate offense occurs after the original offense is resolved.” 

However, as Topar said on the stand, “booking officers had no ability in real time to determine whether the exception applied,” according to the ruling. “He testified that on account of overcrowding condition at the Central Jail, offenders with bail less than $50,000 are customarily cited and released.” 

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