Southern California’s leading law enforcement officials, attorneys and judges discussed and debated the changing face of civil rights issues and litigation in a two-day symposium hosted Jan. 20 and 21 by the University of La Verne College of Law.
The event, “2012 University of La Verne College of Law Section 1983 Civil Rights Symposium,” drew more than 150 attendees with panel discussions and presentations on issues ranging from the impacts of recent Supreme Court rulings to the challenges of modern policing. Section 1983 (42 U.S.C. Section 1983) is the federal statute that allows individuals to bring charges against government agencies for alleged discrimination, abuse, property seizure and abridgement of free speech.
Speakers included U.S. Attorney André Birotte, Jr., Constitutional law expert Erwin Chemerinsky, LAPD Assistant Chief Michel Moore, Riverside County Sheriff Stanley Sniff, The Honorable David T. Bristow, The Honorable Stephen Larson and 18 other prominent judges, attorneys and other legal experts in the field.
The symposium, worth 14.5 MCLE credits, addressed issues of case law, legislation, less lethal munitions, training, legal strategies and plaintiff’s challenges as they relate to law enforcement and the civil rights of those they are hired to protect and serve.
Changes in the law and advances in technology have dramatically transformed the way law enforcement does its job, said Riverside Police Chief Sergio Diaz.
“Everything that our officers do is constantly subjected to, first of all being edited, and then being posted on YouTube,” he said. “It’s a different world than it was 30 years ago.”
Still, attorneys representing the plaintiffs in cases against law enforcement, cited problems in obtaining information from the agencies they challenge. In most cases, juries side with the officers, and district attorneys rarely file criminal charges against officers who use excessive force, they said.
“When you finally do get a copy of the investigation into a police shooting, the ‘suspect’ is the person who’s dead, and the ‘victim’ is the person who got him,” said Andrew Roth, an attorney who frequently represents survivors in fatal police shootings. “It’s hard to explain that to our clients.”
Throughout the two-day event, attorneys and judges provided insight on recent case law, and strategies for prosecuting and defending clients in trial. Also posed, were questions on the effectiveness of the system, and what changes might bring about a better balance of the scales.
“We are extremely proud to have brought together such high caliber speakers, each one presenting his or her unique perspective and experience in the field,” said La Verne Law Interim Dean Philip A. Hawkey, who as a former Pasadena city manager has dealt with Section 1983 cases in the past. “It’s a delicate balancing act that requires vigilant examination.”