Cops concede that their search warrants were illegal, filing says

Legal papers assert that SFPD admitted its searches of journalist Bryan Carmody were invalid, but judge postpones ruling.

The San Francisco Police Department has “effectively conceded” the search warrants they executed against freelance journalist Bryan Carmody were invalid, Carmody’s attorney said in court filing last week, because SFPD failed to contest assertions that the warrants were issued in violation of state and federal law.

“SFPD’s Opposition (to the motion) is remarkable for everything that it does not say,” Thomas Burke, a First Amendment attorney representing Carmody, wrote in the brief. “SFPD simply ignores all of these central points in the Application … Consequently, SFPD concedes that the May 9 and May 10 search warrants are invalid and must be quashed.”

Burke, who also represents 48hills on media-law issues, filed the motion last month to quash the search warrants after SFPD seized 68 items from Carmody’s home and office. Separately, the First Amendment Coalition filed a motion to unseal the probable cause affidavits SFPD used to obtain the warrants.

But Thursday morning, Superior Court Judge Samuel Feng declined to hear the matter, ruling instead that the motions to quash and unseal must be heard individually by the magistrates who signed off on each warrant.

“The law is pretty clear; the magistrate who presided is the one to hear motions to quash,” Feng said, overruling objections from Duffy Carolan, an attorney representing the First Amendment Coalition, not to hear the matters together and issue a single ruling.

SFPD obtained at least five separate search warrants against Carmody. Two warrants were executed on May 10 at Carmody’s home and office. Weeks later, it was revealed SFPD had also executed at least three additional search warrants for Carmody’s cell phone records as early as March 1.

SFPD has declined to state if it obtained other search warrants against Carmody.

Outside the courtroom, Carolan said weeks could have been saved if the ruling to hear the motions separately had been issued earlier. She said it wasn’t clear if all five hearings before the five separate magistrates could be heard the same day, or the hearings would need to be scheduled over multiple days.