City to discuss emergency-bail lawsuit 

San Fernando Superior Courthouse. Courtesy
San Fernando Superior Courthouse. Courtesy

In response to a lawsuit led by the city of Whittier claiming the reimplementation of the emergency bail system in L.A. County is a threat to public safety, Santa Clarita City Council members want to discuss joining the fray. 

The discussion is expected to take place in a closed session meeting at City Hall prior to Tuesday’s regularly scheduled meeting. 

Whittier officials have said the large-scale elimination of a bail requirement for crimes that previously would have called for bail at about $50,000 creates a public safety threat, as suspected criminals can go out and re-offend numerous times, and have, before they get a court date for their crimes under that system.  

Advocates for the elimination of the cash-bail system — which include a handful of plaintiffs who sued to obtain the emergency bail order reimplementation from L.A. County Superior Court Judge Lawrence Riff in the first place, which was then made more permanent order by the Judicial Council in July — presented evidence that indicated the no-bail system in place during the pandemic didn’t significantly impact whether someone showed up to their court date. 

When reached by phone last week, Santa Clarita Mayor Jason Gibbs indicated he was not aware of the lawsuit prior to its filing but also that once he heard about it, he hoped the city would support it. 

He called the current criminal justice system’s guiding principle a “catch-and-immediate-release” philosophy in a text message, adding, “If there is an opportunity to join or support the lawsuit going forward, I would absolutely support the council doing so.” 

The system took effect Oct. 1, based on an order from L.A. County Presiding Judge Samantha Jessner back in July, which was intended to give local law enforcement agencies time to adjust their policies and procedures.  

Most recently, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the L.A. County Superior Court system garnered an initial victory by getting the case moved to Orange County, by successfully filing a motion to change the venue. 

An attorney representing the city of Whittier last week said the 12 cities suing over the policy — which also included  Arcadia, Artesia, Covina, Downey, Glendora, city of Industry, Lakewood, La Verne, Palmdale, Santa Fe Springs and Vernon — argued it would be difficult for an L.A. County judge to rule on such an issue without any bias.  

Those supporting the lawsuit have cited countywide double-digit percentage increases in both the number of property and violent crimes in each of the last two years.  

The new bail schedule allows for law enforcement officials to 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. 

The Sheriff’s Department has widely acknowledged it’s dealing with significant staffing shortages — Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station Capt. Justin Diez reported at a recent parent symposium the station’s staffing level was about 70% of its historic level. There was no data immediately available Monday on how often deputies are taking the additional steps to secure bail for suspects who may be considered a threat or how often such requests are granted by judges. 

Kim Hall Barlow, who represents Whittier, said a new date has not yet been set for the hearing with Judge William Claster in Orange County Superior Court’s Complex Civil Center.  

A clerk for Claster confirmed the case was heading to Orange County last week.  

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