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Criminal Justice

Judge Blocks Sheriff From Searching Metro Computers Seized In Corruption Probe Of Supervisor Kuehl; Has Questions About Warrant

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, a white woman with short blond hair wearing a dark blue shirt with white flowers and leaves, talks into a cell phone she holds with her left hand, with her right hand on her hip.
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl talks on the phone outside her home Tuesday as it is searched by Sheriff's deputies.
(Frank Stoltze
/
LAist)
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A Los Angeles Superior Court judge has ordered the Sheriff's Department to stop searching computers seized from L.A. Metro on Tuesday as part of a corruption investigation into County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl and others.

In his order responding to a request from Metro, Judge William Ryan scheduled a hearing for next Thursday on the matter, and said he wants answers to several questions, including:

  • Why didn't the Sheriff's Department request for a search warrant disclose that another judge — Eleanor Hunter — had already ruled on Sept. 1 that she was going to appoint a Special Master to handle any documents seized from Metro?
  • "Why, after Judge Hunter was going to require a Special Master, did the Sheriff immediately seek a warrant from a different judge, and who made that decision?"
  • "How was it determined that the warrant application would be presented to Judge Craig Richman, and by whom?"
  • "What is the appropriate remedy, if any, for the failure to disclose to the Magistrate the fact that Judge Hunter was requiring a Special Master?"

Ryan also ordered the department not to copy the hard drives of any Metro computers that were seized.

Metro said it had no comment on the judge's ruling. The Sheriff's Department has not responded to a request for comment.

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'An Unprecedented Move Of Retaliation'

Meanwhile, the Sheriff's Department issued a statement saying County Counsel has fired the department's lawyer, in what it called "an unprecedented move of retaliation" on the same day its warrant was challenged in court.

It went on: "We are now forced into a position of being unrepresented with no County authorization to pay for legal representation and reduced to solicit pro bono representation in this matter."

The County Counsel's office said it had no comment "other than to note that County Counsel is monitoring this case closely and will take actions as appropriate to ensure a lawful response."

The Sheriff's Department has not responded to a request for further comment on the attorney's dismissal.

About Those Multiple Searches

The legal sparring stems from Tuesday's multiple searches in a Sheriff's Department investigation into possible corruption involving a contract between L.A. Metro and a local nonprofit.

Besides Metro's offices, deputies searched Kuehl's home and office, the home of Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission member Patti Giggans, and the office of Peace Over Violence, the nonprofit Giggans heads that contracted with Metro.

Kuehl and Giggans have dismissed the investigation as groundless, saying it's based on the accusations of one disgruntled former Metro employee.

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Giggans' attorney, Austin Dove, said he will also seek to quash the search warrant and ask a judge to rule that any information that was seized cannot be used in any criminal case.

Dove claimed there were numerous “false statements,” “misrepresentations,” and “conjecture” in the affidavit supporting the warrant. He did not elaborate.

Dove welcomed the judge’s ruling regarding the Metro warrant. He said it’s not unusual to “court shop,” but not when another judge already is considering appointing a Special Master to handle any search of seized documents.

The County Counsel's office said it has not filed "at this time" a motion seeking to quash the search warrants issued for Kuehl's home and office.

Dove also criticized the decision by Sheriff’s deputies to seize his client’s car. He said they did so after demanding that Giggans hand over another phone they believed she possessed.

“Why don’t you just give us the phone and we’ll give you the car back?" Dove quoted a deputy as saying. He said he's negotiating for the return of the car and Peace Over Violence's main server, so the organization can continue its work.

If Judge Ryan rules any material obtained in the Metro search was seized illegally, it would likely weaken the sheriff’s public corruption case against Giggans and Kuehl.

It’s unusual for the Sheriff’s Department to investigate other county agencies. That would typically be handled by the District Attorney’s office through its Public Integrity Division.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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