Sheriff’s detective followed Kuehl’s search warrant protocol, judge says

A judge found Thursday that a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s investigator followed proper protocols when he obtained a warrant to search the home and office of County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl and others, clearing her allegations that he had sought out a friendly judge to sign. researches.

“The court finds that the process for obtaining the new warrant did not deviate from established processes for law enforcement to obtain a warrant,” Superior Court Judge William Ryan wrote in a document setting out his conclusions.

He said Sheriff Sgt. Max Fernandez, who drafted the probable cause statement that was presented to Judge Craig Richman before last week’s raids, attempted to have the warrants signed on September 8 by another judge who had handled proceedings related to the previous warrants in the case.

This judge, Eleanor Hunter, was on vacation. So Fernandez went to the bailiff’s office and was directed to another open court, which happened to be Richman’s, Ryan found.

“Detective Fernandez did not choose Judge Richman,” Ryan wrote. “At the time, Detective Fernandez did not know Judge Richman and had never heard of him before.”

Richman has a decades-long relationship with Mark Lillienfeld, a key investigator with the sheriff’s public corruption unit, who led the Sept. 14 raids and has been accused by critics of targeting political enemies. Ryan concluded there was no evidence that Lillienfeld was involved in obtaining or executing the search warrants.

Kuehl and others still have pending applications asking a judge to overturn the warrants altogether. In one filing, Kuehl’s attorneys argued the searches were politically motivated and retaliatory, as well as overbroad.

Ryan has made no ruling on whether the evidence Fernandez presented to Richman to obtain the warrants reached the level of probable cause. He said challenges to the warrants would be heard later.

The evidence clearly showed that investigators were focusing on a series of contracts worth more than $800,000 that Metro awarded to a domestic violence nonprofit between 2014 and 2020 to operate a hotline. hotline for reporting sexual harassment on public transport. Fernandez’s statement called the hotline a “complete failure,” but said the contract was still being extended without an offer or competitive analysis.

Kuehl and Patti Giggans, who run the nonprofit and also serve on the Sheriff’s Civilian Oversight Board, have violently clashed with Sheriff Alex Villanueva and called for his resignation. Giggans’ home and nonprofit offices were also searched. They both denied wrongdoing.

Ryan on Thursday extended his previous orders barring sheriff’s investigators from searching seized devices, including 67 devices seized from Kuehl and Giggans, 50 of which were fully or partially imaged. Ryan said he plans to appoint a special master to sort out privileged communications material.

Among the items seized, sheriff’s investigators reviewed 250 text messages and two voicemails on Kuehl’s phones relating to her being tipped off the night before the raid, the judge said.

At an impromptu press conference as investigators searched her home, Kuehl told reporters she had been alerted the previous night by a lawyer from the county council office who she said had heard of the search. impending Inspector General Max Huntsman.

LA County Sheriff’s investigators arrived at the home of County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl early Wednesday with a search warrant.

Kuehl’s attorney, Cheryl O’Connor, said in court Thursday that she was “seriously concerned” about the review of texts and voicemails, as it indicates investigators were looking for things beyond the scope of the mandate signed by Richman.

Villanueva had asked California Atty. General Rob Bonta to investigate whether Kuehl and Giggans were illegally tipped off, and by agreeing to do so this week, Bonta took over the whole case. He said the department’s sideline was in the “public interest.”

“In recent days, the public unfolding of an unprecedented investigation has raised serious questions for the people of Southern California and beyond,” Bonta said in a statement. “I recognize the deep uncertainty this has created and, given the unique circumstances, my team is committed to resuming this investigative process.”

Attorneys for Bonta’s office were in court Thursday and asked sheriff’s investigators to provide them with all seized material within two weeks.

Los Angeles Times

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