Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Weaver v. Superior Court (Cal. Ct. App. - March 12, 2014)


La Twon Weaver's facing a death penalty case.  He (and his lawyers) think that San Diego might be unconstitutionally initiating capital cases based upon the race of the defendant and/or victim.  So the attorneys seek some documents from the San Diego District Attorney's Office under the California Public Records Act; namely, the court filings in death penalty cases between 1977 and 1993.

To be clear:  The only documents the defendant seeks are publicly filed documents in death penalty cases.

The DA's Office refuses to produce them.  Claiming that production would "violate the privacy rights" of third parties and are exempt from disclosure.

To reiterate:  These are publicly filed documents.

The trial court -- Judge Strauss -- agreed with the District Attorney.  The Court of Appeal did not.

Rest assured, this wasn't the District Attorney's only argument.  She also claimed that it would be "overly burdensome" to produce these files, since it would take someone 40 hours of time (at a cost of $85/hour) -- for a total of $3,400 -- to extract these records and produce them.

To which I'll just say one thing:  How much do you think it cost the D.A.'s Office to write briefs in both in the trial court and in the Court of Appeal trying to not produce those documents?  I'm quite confident it's substantially more than $3,400.  (Expenditures which, I might add, didn't even succeed.)

The Court of Appeal is right.  Whether we unconstitutionally target people for the death penalty is a nontrivial issue.  The DA's Office may perhaps be right that it isn't/wasn't doing anything illegal.  But that's insufficient justification for failing to produce public documents in its possession that will subject this claim to the adversarial process.

Just let 'em have the stuff.  Don't waste our tax dollars fighting the thing.