Victoria Kim, Los Angeles Times, August 27, 2014
Appellate judges on Wednesday grilled attorneys opposing a controversial Los Angeles Police Department policy restricting the impounding of unlicensed drivers’ cars, questioning whether the city’s police union and a taxpayer had standing to challenge the policy in the first place.
The jurists are considering an appeal by the city of a trial court ruling that the order from LAPD Chief Charlie Beck violated state law. Beck issued the policy in 2012, contending that 30-day holds on impounded vehicles disproportionately and unfairly burdened immigrants in Los Angeles who are in the country illegally and unable to get licenses.
The Los Angeles Police Protective League sued the city to challenge the impound rule, Special Order 7, arguing that it was in conflict with state law and exposed officers to civil liability.
Justice Elizabeth Grimes, part of a three-judge panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal, asked an attorney for the protective league why the union would want to challenge the order barring a practice that could “foment” discontent and confusion in the community.
“What possible harm could come to the league or to the officers from following Special Order 7? They can’t sleep at night?” she said. “Why does the league have beef with this? What’s it to you?”
Union attorney Richard Levine responded that officers have an inherent interest in making sure orders issued by the chief are in line with state law. The chief’s order goes against the intent behind state laws designed to discourage unlicensed drivers and “prevent accidents and protect the welfare and safety of Californians,” he said.
The justices also quizzed attorneys on whether the LAPD order runs contrary to the state vehicle code sections that allow, but don’t require, officers to impose a 30-day hold on the impounded vehicles of those caught driving without a license. The union and Judicial Watch contend that the law is designed to give individual officers discretion and that it is in violation of California law for Beck to order his officers not to place the hold.
James Clark, chief deputy city attorney, said it was well within the city’s right to set such policies for its police force. The order gives consistency to how and when vehicles are impounded and holds are imposed, a “really serious remedy” that affects people’s ability to work and to take their children to school, he said. The 30-day hold also comes with fines in excess of $1,000.
The city was joined in its defense of the order by a coalition of immigrants’ rights groups, represented in court by the American Civil Liberties Union. The League of California Cities and the California attorney general also filed amicus briefs siding with the city and saying the order was lawful.
[Editor’s Note: See here for the rationale behind Charlie Beck’s decision to stop impounding illegals’ cars.]