LOS ANGELES – The ACLU is suing the county of Los Angeles, to force the release of public records that show how much money the county is spending defending itself against a slew of use-of-force lawsuits brought by jailed inmates.
The lawsuit was filed Thursday afternoon. In it, the ACLU says the county improperly denied a request for documents that would show how much taxpayer money went to private law firms hired to defend the county.
Peter Eliasberg of the ACLU says he is concerned some of these private firms may be wasting taxpayer money on unnecessary legal maneuvers.
“These firms are paid by the hour,” Eliasberg told NBC4. “We are concerned that there is a financial incentive for them to prolong lawsuits against the County for as long as possible. Detailed documentation can tell us what they are doing with the taxpayers’ money.”
The suit says some of these private firms “may have engaged in ‘scorched earth’ litigation tactics and dragged out cases even when a settlement was in the best interest of the County or when a settlement was likely.”
According to the Board of Supervisors, the county has spent $25-million in the first six months of this fiscal year on judgments and settlements stemming from claims of excessive force at the county jails. On top of that amount, Eliasberg estimates the county will spend tens of millions of dollars in legal costs by the end of the fiscal year.
Private law firms are generally paid $155 per hour to represent the county, and it’s estimated more than a dozen suits against the County are making their way through the courts right now.
Reports of excessive force and jail violence had become so rampant by 2011, the FBI began a criminal investigation into possible deputy abuse at the jails.
The County Board of Supervisors also formed a Citizens Commission for Jail Violence, charged with coming up with recommendations for reform.
The county maintains the records are exempt from disclosure, saying they contain details about evidence that should remain between clients and their attorneys.
Eliasberg says this all citizens in Los Angeles have the right to know how their money is spent . “I’m a county taxpayer. I want to see what my money is going to.”