City leaders voice support for lawsuit challenging new bail policies 

Santa Clarita City Hall
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A dozen cities upset by the court’s emergency bail order, which essentially eliminates cash-bail requirements for felonies with bail amounts listed at $50,000 or less, are suing to seek an emergency stop to the policy’s Oct. 1 implementation, according to the city of Whittier, a plaintiff in the suit, which announced the suit Friday. 

“Under this new (bail) schedule, individuals arrested for a variety of misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies may now be cited in the field and released with a notice to appear in court with no individual assessment of the risk to public safety,” according to a statement from Whittier announcing the suit. “That court appearance could be weeks, if not months, following the incident. This change undoubtedly poses a threat to public safety due to a glaring absence of any oversight or accountability for an entire group of serious offenders, raising significant concerns within the community and among local law enforcement agencies.” 

L.A. County Superior Court Presiding Judge Samantha Jessner announced the Oct. 1 policy change back in July with the intention to give local agencies time to adjust their procedures accordingly, according to a release from the Judicial Council at the time of the announcement. 

The L.A. County Board of Supervisors held an hourslong discussion Tuesday over the matter at its regularly scheduled meeting.  

Santa Clarita Mayor Jason Gibbs said Monday via text message that he hadn’t been contacted about the lawsuit prior to its filing. However, he said he would “fully support the efforts of our neighboring cities in stopping the new bail schedule.” 

In addition to Whittier, the cities that have joined are Arcadia, Artesia, Covina, Downey, Glendora, city of Industry, Lakewood, La Verne, Palmdale, Santa Fe Springs and Vernon. 

Shannon DeLong, assistant city manager for Whittier, confirmed Monday that Whittier initiated the suit and wasn’t 100% sure whether officials had connected with the city of Santa Clarita yet.  

“The catch-and-immediate-release philosophy to crime accountability continues to endanger our communities and further taxes our law enforcement,” Gibbs said. “If there is an opportunity to join or support the lawsuit going forward, I would absolutely support the council doing so.” 

Mayor Pro Tem Cameron Smyth said the council was planning to discuss the matter at its next meeting, which would be Oct. 10. 

Fifth District Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who represents the Santa Clarita Valley, said during Tuesday’s discussion with the board, “The bottom line is residents don’t feel safe.”   

Countywide and in the Santa Clarita Valley, the year-over-year crime data for each of the past two years reflect an increase in nearly all Part-I crime categories, as well as overall property crimes and violent crimes. 

Overall violent crimes across L.A. County increased from 13,743 in 2021 to 15,704 in 2022, a 14.27% uptick, according to the data available on the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department’s Transparency Promise website. Property crimes increased from 52,898 to 59,157, a nearly 12% bump. In the SCV’s year-over-year data, the SCV Sheriff’s Station saw an 18.25% increase in violent crimes and a little over 13% increase in property crimes.  

Jessner’s announcement was given at the same time the Emergency Bail Schedule, or EBS, was reimplemented as the result of a preliminary injunction ordered by Judge Lawrence Riff.  

Riff’s ruling came from a request for a preliminary injunction from a handful of defendants suing local law enforcement agencies, claiming 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. 

There’s little doubt a majority of the Santa Clarita City Council would be in favor of supporting an effort such as the Whittier-announced lawsuit, as all members have at one point or another in the last three years have openly expressed concerns with policy changes that have lessened the judicial system’s use of pretrial detention. 

Last week, Councilwoman Laurene Weste repeatedly invoked the reform of county and state laws in her complaints from the dais over how such moves have lessened accountability and are “disintegrating” the state she loves, in calls for the city to look into creating its own prosecutor to hold criminals more accountable. 

The city of Whittier news release notes the bail schedule “applies to a broad range of offenses including car thefts, car burglaries, thefts of property of any value, retail and commercial thefts and burglaries, possession of stolen property, forgery and drug sales, among others.” 

A number of these crimes are also expected to be targeted by a $15 million L.A. County Task Force approved last week.  

Under the new bail schedule, law enforcement officials can request a “magistrate review” to be conducted electronically by an on-call judge to assess the arrestee’s criminal history and other factors and determine if jail is appropriate. 

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