Munger, Tolles & Olson attorneys led a trial that obtained a first-of-its-kind ruling on behalf of alleged gang members who were seeking due process rights. In Vasquez v. Rackauckas, a U.S. District Court judge held in May 2011 that the Orange County District Attorney’s Office (OCDA) and the Orange Police Department (OPD) violated the procedural due process rights of 60 individuals who were subjected to a civil gang injunction without first being provided a pre-deprivation hearing.
Working with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, a Munger Tolles team led an 11-day bench trial, challenging the enforcement of the gang injunction on procedural due process grounds. For our work on the case, the ACLU awarded the firm its 2011 Courageous Advocacy Award.
In February 2009, law enforcement agencies sought a civil injunction against the Orange Varrio Cypress street gang and its more than 100 alleged members. After nearly 60 of the named individual defendants appeared, or tried to appear in court to contest the allegations against them, prosecutors voluntarily dismissed those individuals from the case without prejudice. The court then entered a default judgment and a permanent injunction against the gang, which was a named defendant and an alleged unincorporated association.
After securing that default judgment, the OCDA and OPD served the permanent injunction on those originally named individual defendants who had been dismissed from the case prior to judgment, claiming that those individuals were “agents” of the gang. The terms of the permanent injunction included significant restrictions on the individuals’ freedoms of speech and association.
In her ruling, Judge Valerie Baker Fairbank held that subjecting the individuals to the injunction constituted a violation of their procedural due process rights. Judge Fairbank found that being subjected to a gang injunction significantly restricts a person’s basic liberties and that whether or not someone is a gang member is a complex factual question that should not be left to the sole discretion of police and prosecutors to decide. As such, Judge Fairbank held that, prior to subjecting these plaintiffs to the injunction, the defendants were required to provide them with a pre-deprivation hearing before a neutral decision-maker.
If affirmed on appeal, the decision is expected to have significant implications for jurisdictions statewide that have imposed gang injunctions in similar circumstances.