A federal judge in has issued a second denial to Los Angeles County lawyers, who tried again to stall the wrongful arrest lawsuit filed by a woman who says she was falsely accused of murder.
U.S. District Court Judge R. Gary Klausner said the County has failed to show any reasons why Cherie Townsend's civil case should be put off another four months, despite the insistence from the County that allowing the civil lawsuit to proceed would jeopardize the still-unresolved investigation into the murder of retired nurse Susan Leeds in Rolling Hills Estates.
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"The Court finds that the form of Defendants' motion and the conditional relief it requests is improper," Klausner said.
The ruling means Townsend and her attorney are even closer to obtaining access to the LA County Sheriff's Department's Homicide Bureau files on the May 3, 2018 murder, which was initially described by officials as a robbery gone-wrong.
Townsend was arrested on May 16, 2018. She was accused of taking-part in the stabbing attack on Leeds, 66, in the parking garage of the Promenade on the Peninsula shopping center. Townsend told NBC4's I-Team she insisted during questioning by detectives that she had nothing to do with the killing, and was only linked to the crime scene because she'd accidentally dropped a cellphone nearby.
According to court documents, the Sheriff's Department then placed an undercover law enforcement officer in her cell, subjected her to forensic tests and had her personal belongings and car seized. The LA County District Attorney's Office declined to file charges citing insufficient evidence, and Townsend was released several days later.
Since then, the Sheriff's Department has said Townsend remains a suspect, and in its attempt to have Townsend's civil case delayed, LA County lawyers have repeatedly asked if they could share secret information about the case in private -- in Judge Klausner's chambers.
The Judge refused.
"Defendants offer no new evidence warranting a stay and the Court declines to infer that such evidence exists without its proper submission to the Court," he said in a report of a recent informal hearing.
LA County's legal team has declined to discuss the Townsend lawsuit, citing the ongoing nature of the case. It may appeal the Judge's decision.
Beverly Hills attorney Pat Harris, who is not connected with the lawsuit, said it is extremely unusual for any judge to allow a civil case to proceed while there is a related, unfinished criminal matter pending.
Harris said he's never seen a legal situation quite like the one in Townsend's case, though he said it could signal an increasing willingness of judges to push police to explain their actions to the public.
"I think that more and more courts are starting to look at law enforcement and say - we're going to make you more transparent," he said.
No other arrests have been made in the Leeds case, though several law enforcement sources told NBC4's I-Team significant progress has been made on the investigation in recent months.
Leeds was attacked as she sat in the driver's seat of her Mercedes SUV in the shopping center's parking garage. A security camera captured fuzzy images of the area where the murder happened, and one recording showed Townsend's car exiting the parking structure the on the day the murder was discovered.