May 17, 2023

Munger, Tolles & Olson Secures Historic Preliminary Injunction in Challenge to LA County Bail Policy

Munger, Tolles & Olson and co-counsel secured a historic preliminary injunction, pausing the enforcement of Los Angeles County’s cash bail schedule and eliminating cash bail for individuals arrested on most low-level, non-violent offenses.

The court ruled that the group of plaintiffs had met their preliminary injunction burden to show it is unconstitutional for the City and County of Los Angeles to jail individuals between arrest and their first court date simply because they could not afford cash bail. The court also found that there is no empirical evidence that cash bail protects public safety and ensures court appearances. The court wrote that “the uncontroverted evidence shows [barring enforcement of the bail schedule] will reduce the incidence of new criminal activity and failures to appear for future court proceedings among members of the plaintiffs’ putative class, and decrease overcrowding at these Defendants’ jail facilities.”

The ruling followed a month-long preliminary injunction hearing in a putative class action challenging the constitutionality of L.A. County’s bail policy. The court heard testimony from multiple experts on the harms of wealth-based detention.

“While this case is still ongoing, we are pleased with Judge Riff’s ruling, which has an immediate impact on most individuals arrested and charged with a crime in Los Angeles County,” said Firm Chair Brad Brian, who along with Salil Dudani of Civil Rights Corps, argued the motion for the preliminary injunction. “We are confident that L.A. County bail policies are unconstitutional, and look forward to proving that at trial.”

As ordered in the court’s ruling on the preliminary injunction, the parties will negotiate to develop constitutionally sound plans and procedures for the pre-arraignment release of arrested individuals.

The lawsuit is brought by a group of plaintiffs who all spent five days in jail before being arraigned solely because they were unable to pay the monetary amounts set by the county’s uniform bail schedules.

For many of these plaintiffs, the charges on which they were booked were either reduced to misdemeanors or dropped entirely, and they were released after being detained for nearly a week without appointed counsel and without an opportunity to be heard by a judge.

The lawsuit also includes claims by a group of clergy members challenging the unconstitutional use of their taxes to fund the detention of arrested individuals based on the bail schedules.

The county’s bail schedules are established by a committee of Los Angeles County Superior judges and enforced by arresting agencies. The schedules set a fixed dollar amount each arrested individual must pay to be released from custody and are set based on the charges specified by the arresting officer, without oversight from an attorney or judicial officer.

The plaintiffs are represented by Brad Brian, Rohit Singla, Victoria Degtyareva, Rowley Rice, Tiana Baheri, Brianne Holland-Stergar and Taylor Benninger alongside Public Justice, Civil Rights Corps, Hadsell Stormer Renick & Dai LLP and Schonbrun Seplow Harris Hoffman & Zeldes LLP.

Read more about the preliminary injunction.

The preliminary injunction has garnered digital, radio and television news coverage including LAist’s “AirTalk” on 89.3 FM, Bloomberg and BNN Bloomberg, KOST 103.5 FM, Law360 and NBC Los Angeles. (Subscriptions may be required.)

About MTO’s Pro Bono Practice

Contributing to the community through pro bono work and other forms of volunteerism is a core tenet of the culture at Munger, Tolles & Olson. The firm was one of the charter signatories to the American Bar Association’s pro bono challenge and consistently devotes more than three percent of all attorney time to delivering needed pro bono legal assistance. We are proud to be one of the select group of firms to have received the ABA’s coveted Pro Bono Publico Award.

Learn more about our pro bono practice.