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L.A. Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey fails to make her case

In the seven months since Jackie Lacey took over as Los Angeles County district attorney, she has largely stayed out of the public spotlight.

But Wednesday, she was handed a very public loss after the California Supreme Court refused to take up an appeal filed by Lacey's office involving four Irwindale officials who were indicted in 2011 for embezzlement.

Lacey had asked the Supreme Court to overturn an appeals court decision that had tossed out the indictment because it found prosecutors failed to meet their obligation to gather all potentially exculpatory material and disclose it to the grand jury.

As The Times' editorial board noted last month:

In seeking an indictment, prosecutors failed to disclose to the grand jury two documents that might have undermined their case. Under state law ... prosecutors are required to present any exculpatory evidence they are aware of to grand jurors. One of the documents that was withheld was a memo from the city manager.... Because the documents were not turned over, a California appeals court threw out the indictment.

The district attorney's office, however, insists that the appeals court got it wrong because the two deputy district attorneys handling the case were unaware of the memo. Saying that it is unreasonable to expect the prosecutors to have handed over information they knew nothing about, the office is appealing the case to the California Supreme Court.

Lacey's loss is really a win for fairness and for Brady vs. Maryland, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that established that prosecutors have a constitutional obligation to turn over information favorable to the defense.

Other courts can now rely on the Irwindale decision for guidance in cases involving prosecutors' obligation to provide exculpatory information to grand juries.

In Lacey's defense, while her office is the one that filed the appeal, she has sought to improve the D.A. office's Brady policy.

Clearly, the changes were in response to concerns raised last year by the ACLU of Southern California, which sued then-Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley, alleging that prosecutors were routinely concealing material. Cooley repeatedly denied the allegations, noting that he was among the first prosecutors in the nation to develop a policy to ensure compliance and had established the Brady Alert System, a database of information that contains negative information about law enforcement officers and government employees that could potentially undermine their testimony at trial.

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