Peace Officer Personnel Records May Be Discoverable In Administrative Proceedings
The Pitchess procedure allows for the discovery of confidential personnel records of peace officers in specific circumstances. These records can be disclosed only where they are material to the subject matter of pending litigation, and only after an in camera inspection of the records by a court prior to disclosure. Typically, Pitchess motions – which are usually made by criminal defendants – occur in the courts. Under existing case law, Pitchess discovery cannot be used in certain administrative hearings, particularly where the records are not relevant to the issues in the hearing. Many assumed that Pitchess discovery could not be used in any administrative proceeding.
The recent decision of Riverside Cnty. Sheriff's Dept. v. Stiglitz clarifies that while Pitchess discovery may not be available in some administrative proceedings under the Administrative Procedure Act, Pitchess discovery may be available in administrative appeals involving local law enforcement agencies pursuant to Gov. Code § 3304(b), which is part of the Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights Act (known as POBR). Confidential personnel records of peace officers may be relevant and subject to discovery in officer disciplinary proceedings, such as where an officer – like the correctional officer Stiglitz – raises a disparate treatment defense by arguing that other officers did not receive similar discipline for similar misconduct.
Local law enforcement agencies and affected officers may still have any administrative order regarding the production of these records reviewed by the Superior Court before the records are produced, by filing a petition for administrative mandamus in the Superior Court.