A judge has ordered Sheriff Alex Villanueva to appear before her next month and explain why he should not be held in contempt for allegedly ignoring three subpoenas in 2021 to testify before the Civilian Oversight Commission.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elaine Lu issued her ruling Tuesday after having heard arguments Oct. 17 on a motion by Los Angeles County attorney Harvinder S. Anand requesting that the hearing be scheduled. The judge’s order directs Villanueva to be in court on Dec. 12 to show why he should not be “adjudged in contempt of the subpoenas, and each of them.”
The judge noted that the contempt proceeding is criminal in nature and depending on her finding could result in a maximum fine of $3,000 and jail time of up to 15 days.
The subpoenas issued in September, October and November 2021 required Villanueva to provide sworn virtual testimony before the COC regarding the sheriff’s reasons for initiating what Anand alleged in his court papers were “highly suspect investigations of public officials overseeing the Sheriff’s Department as well as the department’s policy on internal deputy cliques, such as the Banditos.
Anand maintains in his court papers that the internal groups have “plagued the Sheriff’s Department for decades.”
Villanueva disobeyed all three subpoenas and declined to testify under oath, according to Anand’s court papers.
“Indeed, Sheriff Villanueva has flatly declared he will not agree to be placed under oath under any circumstance,” Anand stated in his court papers.
In her court papers, Villanueva attorney Linda Miller Savitt stated that the COC’s demand that the sheriff testify under oath is “inexplicable,” that the sheriff has agreed to voluntarily appear and that his right to due process is being violated.
“These subpoenas are not for a lawfully authorized purpose, (but) simply because the COC has subpoena power and they believe they are all powerful is not enough,” Savitt stated in her court papers. “Subpoena power is not unlimited, (it) is supposed to be used for a lawfully authorized purpose and can be abused.”
Of the three subpoenas at issue, one “clearly interferes with the sheriff’s state law enforcement and criminal investigatory powers, powers expressly excluded from the purview of the COC,” Savitt argued in her court papers.
Villanueva, elected in 2018, was trailing retired Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna in early returns in his bid for re-election.