Los Angeles District Attorney Files “S.L.A.P.P.” Suit Against Whistleblower

Besides taking aim at private attorneys who squared off with the Los Angeles District Attorney, Steve Cooley has been cited for his “striking and rampant” “course of explicit retaliation” against deputy district attorneys working for his office who had exercised their First Amendment Right to unionize. (See, Order Granting Plaintiff’s Motion for Preliminary Injunction, Filed 3/02/10; Document 38; One Unnamed Deputy District Attorney v. County of Los Angeles; United Stated District Court, Central District of California; Case No.: CV 09-7931 ODW (SSx).

There has been a disturbing reliance on the JSID (Judicial System Integrity Division) of the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office in recent years to prosecute private attorneys who cause embarrassment to Steve Cooley’s office. During Steve Cooley’s reign, JSID served as the political arm of his office. Private attorneys were being referred in record numbers to JSID and indicted for arguably questionable crimes. In some cases, it was retaliation for whistle-blowing on prosecutorial misconduct; and for others, it was for simply utilizing novel civil and criminal procedures to effect a client’s defense. Such retaliatory conduct is commonly referred to as a S.L.A.P.P. suit.

California Code of Civil Procedure §425.16 defines a S.L.A.P.P. suit as follows:

(a) The Legislature finds and declares that there has been a disturbing increase in lawsuits brought primarily to chill the valid exercise of the constitutional rights of freedom of speech and petition for the redress of grievances. The Legislature finds and declares that it is in the public interest to encourage continued participation in matters of public significance, and that this participation should not be chilled through abuse of the judicial process. To this end, this section shall be construed broadly.

In 2010, following his revelation that the Los Angeles District Attorneys were relying on secretly crafted memoranda directing them on how to avoid providing defense attorneys with potentially exculpatory evidence, civil rights attorney, Sean Erenstoft was retaliated against. The suit pertained to the L.A.D.A.’s hiding of exculpatory evidence in a cyber-stalking matter and during the tussle to obtain evidence the deputy handling the case was sequestering, Erenstoft was privately provided a handful of “Special Directives” penned by District Attorney, Steve Cooley. Three of the directives dealt specifically with the D.A.’s handling of potentially exculpatory evidence — known as Brady evidence. The D.A.’s office was later sued by the A.C.L.U. in connection with the documents Erenstoft exposed. (See, Douglas v. Cooley).

Sean Erenstoft complained to the deputy’s boss and then went to the Attorney General and the California State Bar with the Special Directives demonstrating systematic violations of due process. Despite serving his complaint via certified mail, neither the Attorney General nor the State Bar provided any sort of acknowledgment or response to Erenstoft’s concerns. Months later, however, the same deputy referred Erenstoft to JSID to have him indicted by grand jury (so as to avoid judicial oversight and the application of the anti S.L.A.P.P. statutes). The lawsuit against Erenstoft would later be dismissed during a hearing in which Los Angeles Superior Court Judge, Stephen A. Marcus quipped, “Erenstoft was doing his job until you folks took issue.”

Whereas prosecutors are afforded immunity for their conduct, most certainly private attorneys should be afforded the protections of the First Amendment when litigating on behalf of their clients. Erenstoft utilized lawful civil and criminal procedures to defend his client and to obtain discovery being unlawfully withheld by county prosecutors. The D.A.’s crafty grand jury argument suggesting that Erenstoft’s filing of a civil suit to obtain evidence from the D.A.’s victim/witness somehow served to dissuade the witness was utter nonsense. Indeed, the process of filing suit and serving discovery is a First Amendment protected activity as was his attendant complaint to the State Bar and the Attorney General about systematic discovery abuse by the D.A.

Sean Erenstoft can be reached at (310) 613-8887.