Judge: Ex-policeman's record must be public
The termination records of a former Marysville police officer who is suing the city to get his job back must be made public, a Yuba County judge ruled Monday.
Superior Court Judge Dennis Buckley denied a request filed by an attorney for Leonard Cummings to seal documents related to the former officer's 2004 firing.
Cummings, a nine-year veteran of the force, sued the city in March for firing him for reasons not disclosed in his lawsuit. City officials upheld the decision after arbitration, according to his lawsuit.
His Sacramento attorney, Steven Welty, asked that the court seal any documents related to Cummings' firing that might be used in the lawsuit.
That included the officer's 2004 termination letter, a transcript of an arbitration hearing, a written decision by city officials upholding the firing and the city's response to the lawsuit. That response has not yet been filed.
Welty argued that those documents should be withheld because they are confidential personnel records of a peace officer and are protected from release by state law and that public disclosure of the details of Cummings' firing would embarrass him.
But Buckley sided with the city of Marysville. In court papers, Kimberly Hood, an attorney for the city, contended that Cummings “waived any right of confidentiality by challenging his termination and putting the termination-related records before the court.”
In his ruling, Buckley allowed 30 days for the records to be made public, so attorneys have time to redact any names of other police officers that might be mentioned in the documents.
Welty is expected to argue a similar case next month. Bobby Cooper, a former Yuba County sheriff's deputy, is also fighting his 2004 firing in connection with a hazing incident.
In that case, Welty is asking that the same types of termination-related records be sealed. Unlike Marysville, the county has not filed papers opposing that request.
Outside Buckley's courtroom, Welty said he will make the same case for keeping those records secret, despite Monday's ruling. “It won't affect our arguments,” he said.
Before his decision, Buckley also denied a request by the Appeal-Democrat to argue, or intervene, in the motion to seal the records. The judge declared that the newspaper does not have a direct and immediate interest in the litigation.
David Vasquez, a lawyer representing the Appeal-Democrat, said he was pleased with the outcome of Monday's hearing, despite the blow to the newspaper.
“Judge Buckley's correct: You file litigation, it becomes public record,” he said. “We accomplished what we set out - to make sure those records weren't sealed.”
The Appeal-Democrat is also asking to intervene in the Cooper case. Judge Timothy Evans is expected to decide whether to grant the paper's request, and whether to seal the records, at a May 19 hearing.
Appeal-Democrat reporter Daniel Thigpen can be reached at 749-4713. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.