Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Public 1, Police 0

California Supremes Rule Cops Can't Hide Names

On August 27 the Supreme Court of California laid down the law.

The cops claimed their job was so inherently dangerous it was illegal to publish their names, the department the belonged to, hiring and termination dates -- basic information from personnel files, the records available on every other California public employee through the state public record's act.

On the other side of the courtroom, the Los Angeles Times arguing how can it be that knowing the name of an officer directing traffic at a busted streetlight is a danger to her or anyone?

The cops -- every damn fraternal organization in California -- fought back like wounded tigers defending their young. "Because! It...it is!!! And if you weren't LIBERALS. If you only appreciated how we put our bodies between the unwashed violent hordes and you, why...why you'd understand. We need our names and departments, our very existence to be kept SECRET, so secret no one can ever know anything. Ever."

The trial court said yeah, of course the records are public. Public servants, public records.

The police, not the least paranoid group around, went freaking insane, filing a LOUD appeal, suggesting attacks on police through very personal means (junk mail?, spam? vampires?) and unspecified but horrible outcomes to the citizens if the police were not promptly protected pronto: blood moons, frogs falling from the sky, puppies with no one to love them. Horrid nasty stuff.

Fortunately in April 2005 a three-judge panel of the state court of appeal bought this line of hot steaming horse hooey saw the wisdom in the police's point, quickly reversing the trial court saying it was "a matter of common sense" that the public was not entitled to know the identities of police officers. And some other stuff.

Whew. Close one. Personally I was most worried about the vampires.

Undeterred the evil Times appealed (can they do that? I didn't know they could do that!) to the Supreme Court of California which on August 27 laid down the law.

The Supremes

The names of all public employees are viewed as public information under both state and federal law. The Attorney General has long held the position that "the name of every public officer and employee . . . is a matter of public record."

The public's legitimate interest in the identity and activities of peace officers is even greater than its interest in those of the average public servant. "Law enforcement officers carry upon their shoulders the cloak of authority to enforce the laws of the state. In order to maintain trust in its police department, the public must be kept fully informed of the activities of its peace officers."

We recognize that individuals generally have some level of privacy "interest in controlling the dissemination of information regarding personal matters." We do not view the fact of an individual's public employment, however, as a personal matter. Furthermore, dissemination of information concerning where and when a particular individual has served as a peace officer is not likely to cause "unjustified embarrassment or indignity." To the contrary, a peace officer occupies an especially honorable position, one vested with great responsibility, trust, and confidence.

We find no well-established social norm that recognizes a need to protect the identity of all peace officers. Peace officers operate in the public realm on a daily basis, and identify themselves to the members of the public with whom they deal. Indeed, uniformed peace officers are required to wear a badge or nameplate with the officer's name or identification number. We have concluded that those statutes do not protect an officer's name, employing department, and dates of employment, they do not support the argument that peace officers have a recognized privacy interest in such innocuous information.

The public has a strong interest in maintaining the safety and efficacy of its law enforcement agencies. But "[t]he prospect that somehow this information in the hands of the press will increase the danger to some . . . cannot alone support a finding in favor of nondisclosure as to all." The means for protecting such officers is to segregate the information relating to them from the records that are disclosed.

The safety of peace officers and their families is most certainly a legitimate concern, but the Commission's contention that peace officers in general would be threatened by the release of the information in question is purely speculative. "A mere assertion of possible endangerment" is insufficient to justify nondisclosure.

For these reasons, we conclude that the privacy and safety interests of peace officers in general do not outweigh the public’s interest in the disclosure of the information sought by the Times.

For the reasons stated above, the judgment rendered by the Court of Appeal is reversed.

Chief Justice Ronald M. George, appointed by a Republican governor, authored the majority 5-2 (A.J. Kennard writing separately concurring and dissenting.)

What do we learn?

California judges still get it right. It's not the "left-coast" for nada. *smiles*

Most importantly, these cases are worth fighting.

We have not lost the courts.

The Republicans would like you to believe it. They've been telling you the courts are in the hands of "liberal judges" for so long, and you've been hearing about "right wing strict-constructionist judges in the mode of Thomas and Scalia" for so long we've pretty much absorbed the meme that it's hopeless. That the US Senate will block any decent judge put up, not that Bush would ever nominate any to start with. And with Republican governors and legislators in so damn many red states, what's the use we say... we've lost the judges, and that's the last bulwark of freedom.

Horse hooey.

It's just a framing device started in right-wing think tanks, echoed back in the traditional media, and we all fell for it major. It's not true. Let go of it please.

It isn't true in California, Washington, Massachusetts, not in a good third or more of the country just glancing at a map. Not even in 40% of the federal bench. And that's just on today's numbers. But wait... it gets better. Judges are around for a while. And this love affair with the right is new. Ten years ago the right was seen for what it's been since Korea, a dangerous group of wackos, not to be let too near the levers and dials of true power, kept around to placate the fundies and threaten the Democrats, the true people's choice, whenever their bullshit got too out of control. More than half of those judges are still sitting.

Even judges and justices appointed by Republicans -- I remember when I didn't have to automatically take the political background of a judge and the person who appointed him into account; good times -- will sometimes surprise. Of course, sometimes they'll hose you over for brutal political bullshit clear to everyone.

Getting back on point. No, that is the point. The point is, some days you go up against 10 feet of armor backed up with the sweet-ass insincere smile they've been practicing since Sunday School while sniffing their stink-finger and pretending to give a shit about how Sister Clay's canned peaches related to the WORD during Testimony meeting. If they're going to cheat and that's that, get out. Remember the minute men didn't fight the British in straight lines -- they would have been slaughtered. Don't fight liars on their own turf. Get them on yours. Or simply walk away. That really pisses them off.

The point is to fight. If you can't fight this one, fight that one. Pick fights that make you stronger, that cause you to grow, to get bigger and tougher, make you expand as a person, in sociability, and in competence in new areas by taking them on.

"We fight on." It's what we do here. No fooling. Don't commit physical violence. But I'm damn sick of liberals who won't do what it takes to win.

You could volunteer to get coffee at the ACLU or the local Democratic Party or candidate. Choose something dammit. Involve yourself. Want to live longer? Participate!

We love you and are SO glad you're here. Still, take three hours a week and play and play, eat and eat with other people (or your family)... out there.

Way to go California Supreme Court Judges. Good job Times. Nice fight everyone.

What fights are you fighting, itching to fight, or nervous about taking on?