Sheriff Alex Villanueva will have to appear before the Office of Inspector General and answer questions about deputy gangs while under oath and with his testimony transcribed by a court reporter, a judge ruled Monday.
“He should testify under oath and I’m ordering him to do so,” Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Malcolm Mackey said in denying a motion by Villanueva’s attorney, Linda C. Miller Savitt, to quash the subpoena.
Savitt argued the sheriff has always been willing to voluntarily appear before the OIG, but was challenging the magnitude of the OIG’s subpoena power. Savitt said Villanueva does not believe Inspector General Max Huntsman should be “whipping out subpoenas because he thinks he can so he can grandstand.”
The judge disagreed with her argument.
“It doesn’t make sense, let’s get it out,” Mackey said in ordering that a date be set for Villanueva’s appearance within 21 days.
In a sworn declaration, Huntsman said Villanueva appeared virtually before him last summer, but that the sheriff said he was voluntarily doing so and refused to be sworn. An attorney for Villanueva also said Huntsman could tape-record the session, but that the sheriff would not consent to his testimony being transcribed by a court reporter, according to Huntsman.
Huntsman said he subsequently suspended the proceeding so that the county could seek the relief sought in the current petition. In his court papers, Harvinder S. Anand, an attorney representing the county, said the OIG issued a subpoena to Villanueva in February 2021 to testify regarding the “important topic of deputy secret societies” in the sheriffs department.
“Instead of complying with his obligation to submit to this valid exercise of the OIG’s subpoena authority, Sheriff Villanueva delayed for months with a baseless writ to quash the subpoena,” Anand wrote in his court papers.
Anand was referring to a petition Villanueva filed previously challenging the OIG’s subpoena that was dismissed by Judge James C. Chalfant last August. The OIG then demanded that Villanueva appear and abide by the subpoena on the mutually agreed-upon date of last Sept. 7, but the sheriff “insisted that he would appear only informally and voluntarily — not pursuant to the subpoena — and that he would not agree to be sworn by a certified reporter or to have his testimony transcribed,” Anand wrote in his court papers.
“By unjustifiably declining to provide under-oath transcribed testimony, even after his initial challenges to the subpoena were rejected, the sheriff continued to flout his legal obligation to submit to OIG oversight,” Anand wrote in his court papers.
The mission of the OIG is to promote “transparency, constitutional policing and the fair and impartial administration of justice,” according to its website.
UPDATE: Sheriff Villanueva has issued a statement regarding the ruling. He said: “These subpoenas are political theater and, if successful, I will be the first elected official subjected to this heavy-handed abuse of power. I seek a remedy in the appellate court to establish a fair process going forward where the rules and standards are clear for all sheriffs and boards of supervisors throughout the state in dealing with the new transparency laws should they find themselves in similar disagreement.”