Overview: A California appellate court recently ruled that an administrative law judge and the State Personnel Board erred in excluding evidence of an employee’s prior dismissal from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department in hearings challenging termination from his current job. The ex-deputy had been fired for meeting a criminal who had tried to bribe him, but he misrepresented the violation on a job application as unsupervised contact with an informant, and was hired. The employer learned the true nature of the discharge through a published appellate court opinion and terminated the employee. Evidence of the decision was excluded in his appeal. The appellate court found that published court opinions available online or printed from microfilm were public record, not subject to the exclusionary rule. Public records were also not protected from disclosure as confidential personnel files. Evidence of the employee’s history was thus admissible and revealed his fraud in signing the application under penalty of perjury.
Training Points: This case illustrates three important points for public safety employers. First, as a court previously held in July of this year, just because information can be found in a peace officer’s personnel file, that does not necessarily make it the subject of a Pitchess motion if the same information can be discovered from another source. Second, information obtained from public sources typically will not be excluded because of their public nature, whether in an administrative proceeding or otherwise. Third, tell the truth because the information lied about may not get you in trouble, but lying about it definitely will.
Summary Analysis: In California Science Center v. State Personnel Board, Rudy Arellanes failed to disclose the actual reason for his prior termination as a deputy sheriff in an employment application. Rather than saying he had been dismissed for secretly meeting with a criminal, he cited a “failure to report contact with an informant” to his supervisor. The California Science Center hired Arellanes as museum security officer and later promoted him to supervisor. He was fired when the Center discovered a published court decision detailing his prior termination. Arellanes appealed the dismissal based on “improperly obtained” records and obtained a favorable ruling. The Center challenged the administrative decision and the appellate court agreed, finding no illegal search or seizure of information that was public record. Further, the court found that published facts were not protected as “confidential” disciplinary records. As such, evidence of Arellanes’ past conduct had been improperly excluded and showed that he was dishonest in securing his current job.