Last evening in closed session, the Santa Monica City Council voted 4-3 to join a lawsuit against L.A. County Courts’ newly implemented “zero cash bail” system that went into place on October 1. Under this system, defendants in non-violent misdemeanor cases are released without having to pay jail while they await their trial date. Councilmembers Phil Brock, Oscar De la Torre, Lana Negrete and Christine Parra voted to join the lawsuit with Mayor Gleam Davis and Councilmembers Caroline Torosis and Jesse Zwick voting against.
For more on zero cash bail and the controversy surrounding its implementation in L.A. County, see this article published yesterday at Next.
While many public meetings concerning the program throughout the county have been packed with people speaking against zero cash bail based on personal anecdotes and news reports that have tied the issue of cash bail to increased crime; only four speakers spoke on the issue at yesterday’s meeting and all of them were opposed.
Santa Monica resident and current attorney with the Human Rights Campaign (but speaking for himself) John Raphling spoke about his experiences as a defense attorney in the Los Angeles Court system.
“For over 20 years as a practicing attorney in the criminal courts of Los Angeles County, I saw firsthand how the use of pretrial incarceration and the use of money bail perverted our system of justice and did not make anyone safer,” he recounted.
“People held in custody who aren’t rich enough to pay their bail are more likely to plead guilty quickly, so they can be released, whether they are guilty or not of the crime they are accused of. This is not justice.”
Other speakers took issue with the study by the Yolo County district attorney that a traditional bail system, that requires people to pay cash for their release even for minor crimes, is more safe.
Ambrose Brooks pointed out that L.A. County has used a zero cash bail system for misdemeanors twice for nearly two years (once during the pandemic’s early days and once because of a court order) and did not see an increase in crime.
“During these two plus years, LA County did not experience any corresponding ‘rise in crime’ as a result of the new bail schedule,” Brooks testified. “Money bail is not the driver of the issues Santa Monica residents are concerned with.”
Claire Simonich, the associate director with the Vera Institute of Justice, bolstered Brooks’ testimony by showing that L.A. County’s experience is not an outlier, but the norm, for communities that move to zero cash bail. Studies in Kentucky and Harris County Texas (home to Houston) have shown little impact, or even a decrease, in people being arrested for similar crimes after a zero cash bail system is put in place.
“By following the research, Santa Monica has a chance to spare many people the harmful destabilization of pretrial incarceration,” Simonich concluded, pointing to the stress put on families when a member is incarcerated before trial including loss of jobs, housing and insurance.
Natalya Zernitskaya also listed her opposition to joining the lawsuit in comments that were otherwise about the Voting Rights Case the council also discussed.
The lawsuit against the system was filed by the City of Whittier and has already been joined by the cities by Arcadia, Artesia, Covina, Downey, Glendora, Industry, Lakewood, La Verne, Palmdale, Santa Fe Springs, and Vernon.