By Joel Rubin, September 23, 2013
A judge Monday said he would not set aside his recent decision to strike down the Los Angeles Police Department's
controversial car impound policy, throwing the question of when cops
can impound vehicles of unlicensed drivers into further uncertainty.
Last month, Los Angeles
County Superior Court Judge Terry Green announced in court that he had
concluded the LAPD's impound policy violates state law.
Green's finding came in a lawsuit brought against the city and LAPD
by the Police Protective League, the union that represents rank-and-file
Los Angeles cops.
City and police officials,
along with a group of civil rights and immigration advocacy
organizations that support the impound rules, announced plans to appeal
the ruling and asked Green to table his decision until a state appeals
court could rule on the case.
Green's refusal to do so means the defenders of the impound policy
now must look to the appeals court to issue a stay of the judge's
ruling, said Michael Kaufman, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, which is part of the lawsuit.
If that request is denied, Kaufman said, the LAPD would have no
choice but to toss out its current impound rules, at least until the
outcome of the appeal -- a process that could take several months.
"There are real concerns about what will happen in the coming weeks
and months if Special Order 7 is suspended," said Kaufman, referring to
the directive from LAPD Chief Charlie Beck that put the new impound
rules in place.
Under the terms of the order, officers are expected to continue
impounding cars when they discover a person driving without a valid
license. But unlike the LAPD's previous policy, the order bars officers
from imposing a 30-day hold on a vehicle when a driver meets several
criteria -- including having auto insurance, valid identification and no
previous citations for unlicensed driving.
Officers were also
told to forgo impounding a vehicle in cases in which a licensed driver
is in the car or able to arrive "immediately."
The new rules were
needed to give officers a clear understanding on how to apply two
somewhat vague sections of the state vehicle code that deal with
impounds, Beck and others have argued.
Union officials countered in their lawsuit that the impound rules
illegally stripped officers of the discretion granted to them in the
state laws to decide in some cases when to impose the more harsh 30-day
hold on a car.
“We are pleased with the ruling today,” said the union's president,
Tyler Izen. “LAPD officers were caught in the middle of a legal
controversy over whether they were vested with the authority to impound
vehicles driven by unlicensed drivers as required by the State Vehicle
Code, or follow LAPD Special Order No. 7."
Beck has presented the issue as a matter of fairness and public
safety. The loss of a car for a month and the fees and fines that can
run over $1,000 to retrieve it, disproportionately affects the 400,000
immigrants estimated to be in the country illegally and living in L.A.,
since they cannot legally obtain driver's licenses, Beck said. Under
Special Order 7, he said, unlicensed drivers would be motivated to take
responsible steps such as buying insurance.
Beck on Monday declined to comment on Green's refusal to set his
ruling aside, saying he hadn't yet been brought up to speed by city
attorneys. He reiterated his belief that the department thoroughly
vetted the legality of the impound rules before they went into effect.
Through a spokesman, City Atty. Mike Feuer declined to comment on Green's decision today.
Green has not yet issued a formal, written judgment in the case
but is expected to do so in coming days, Kaufman said. Once he does so,
attorneys can submit their request for a stay with the appeals court,
which would probably take several weeks before making a decision. During
that time, Kaufman said, he was hopeful the appeals court would keep
Special Order 7 in effect.