Laguna Beach joins O.C. cities in supporting Sheriff’s appeal of inmate release order

Signs outside Laguna Beach City Hall direct visitors to check-in at the Council Chambers amid a COVID-19 case surge. Photo by Daniel Langhorne

Laguna Beach will join a growing number of cities signing onto a legal brief supporting Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes’ appeal of a court order to release half the Orange County jail population to prevent a potentially deadly COVID-19 outbreak.

The Laguna Beach City Council on Monday voted 4-0-1, Councilmember George Weiss abstained, to join in an amicus curiae brief to the appellate court that will be authored by Newport Beach in support of Barnes’ position, Laguna Beach City Attorney Phil Kohn wrote in an email.

In a phone interview, Weiss said he abstained from the vote because he wasn’t provided with a copy of the legal brief before Monday’s closed session meeting.

Orange County Superior Court Judge Peter Wilson issued a Dec. 11 ruling that orders the Orange County Sheriff’s Department to transfer half the jail population out of group living areas. Wilson concluded Barnes failed to protect inmates in vulnerable health from coronavirus outbreaks.

In a Dec. 16 statement, Barnes said the order could potentially result in the release of hundreds of inmates who have been charged with serious and violent crimes.

“My department and I will fight this ruling in order to protect the integrity of our criminal justice system, and most importantly, protect the safety of Orange County residents,” Barnes wrote.

Newport Beach Mayor Brad Avery said Monday afternoon he appreciated Laguna Beach’s support.

“It’s important that cities band together here and express their deep concern of this,” Avery said. “Of course, other cities have been stepping up so it’s great to have Laguna Beach added to the list. We just can’t be silent here.”

The court order for an unusual release of jail inmates is poorly-timed in light of the public health crisis.

“All of our residents and our visitors are concerned about getting through the pandemic and to have this on top of it is very difficult,” Avery said.

Newport Beach City Attorney Aaron Harp said his office won’t submit its brief to the court until Wednesday at the earliest, following an expected brief from the County of Orange.

As of Monday afternoon, city councils who agreed to sign on are Yorba Linda, Orange, Villa Park, Cypress, Dana Point, San Juan Capistrano, San Clemente, and Mission Viejo, Harp said. He expects additional cities to send notices in the coming days.

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  1. Why is Laguna Beach fighting to keep minorities in jail?

    Laguna Beach has long been for “whites only” behind their gates and stone walls.

    Laguna Beach should be fighting to free minorities from jail.


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