LA County Sheriff faces contempt hearing for defying oversight board’s subpoena  

Sheriff Alex Villanueva must show in a hearing early next year why he should not be held in contempt for defying a subpoena to appear before the civilian board that oversees his department and talk about the coronavirus problem in the jails, a judge ruled today.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Holly Fujie rejected arguments by Villanueva’s attorney, Linda Miller Savitt, that the subpoena was “procedurally and substantively deficient” and an abuse of power by the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission.

“(Villanueva) disobeyed the subpoena even though the commission had the authority to issue the subpoena and the subpoena required (his) personal attendance,” Fujie wrote in her ruling. “Therefore, the court finds a basis to issue an order to show cause re: contempt as to (Villanueva).”

The judge scheduled the contempt hearing for Jan. 21.

According to the petition filed by Los Angeles County on behalf of the COC on June 25, the “dire consequences felt by many in Los Angeles naturally precipitated concerned members of the community to contact the COC about the effects of COVID-19, a highly contagious and deadly virus, on jail safety.”

The filing further states that by failing to show up, Villanueva “lost an opportunity to engage the public directly regarding this important matter, which is of escalating public concern, and to enhance the public’s trust in the Sheriff’s Department.”

The COC’s subpoena powers are authorized by Measure R, which was passed by voters in March. After Villanueva did not appear voluntarily at a May 7 meeting, the commission voted unanimously to subpoena him.

Villanueva sent Assistant Sheriff Bruce Chase in his place to answer questions about the jails during the May 21 COC meeting. Villanueva said that testifying before the commission would be a “public shaming” and he has questioned whether Measure R is legal.

Savitt argued the commission had already received the information it needed from Chase. She called the subpoena “unclear” and “bizarre” and denied there was a willful violation of the subpoena by the sheriff.

The Board of Supervisors created the COC in 2016 to improve public transparency and accountability of the LASD by providing opportunities for community engagement.

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