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File a false police report at your own financial risk, the California Supreme Court seemed to say Thursday during oral arguments. In two separate cases, the court’s justices made it clear they do not believe that state Civil Code § 47(b) provides an absolute immunity from liability for anyone who intentionally files false information with police officers. If the state Legislature will provide only qualified immunity for someone who reports child abuse or for principals reporting allegations against students, Justice Marvin Baxter said, why would they allow absolute immunity from liability for someone acting in bad faith? Why shouldn’t California follow just about every other state in the nation, Justice Joyce Kennard asked, in rejecting absolute immunity in such situations? In Mulder v. Pilot Air Freight, S105483, Robert Mulder alleged company officials at Pilot knowingly filed a false report with Los Angeles police, claiming he possessed a stolen flight recorder. And in Hagberg v. California Federal Bank, S105909, Lydia Hagberg sued bank officials who telephoned Pasadena police officers and accused her of trying to cash a stolen check. In both cases, L.A.’s Second District Court of Appeal held that 47(b), intended to ensure open communications with police without fear of liability, provided the defendants complete immunity. On Thursday, the high court justices seemed to disagree, with both Kennard and Baxter questioning whether that wouldn’t encourage people to file false reports to get back at someone. Baxter posed a hypothetical in which a man is accused of a crime falsely by someone who doesn’t like him, then has to mortgage his house to pay legal fees to defend against baseless allegations. “How is that person going to get restitution for having lost just about everything?” he asked. “I don’t think he does get it back,” L.A. lawyer Robert Bragg, who represented the defendants in Mulder, said. “And that’s good public policy?” Baxter shot back, adding that in his opinion the state Legislature could have made it very clear if it intended immunity to be so broad for false reports. If immunity isn’t absolute, but qualified, where should the court draw the line? Justice Ming Chin asked Encino lawyer Robert Ezra, who represented Mulder. How, he asked, can the court sweep away all the protections for innocent people wanting to report crimes? Ezra argued that the court could take away a false reporter’s immunity if it leads to an arrest, not just an investigation. He also said that innocent people shouldn’t be at risk anyway, only those who file false reports. “It’s the bad guy I’m talking about,” he said. “It’s the bad guy who shouldn’t be covered.” After grilling Ezra and Bragg, the justices asked a few similar questions of the Hagberg lawyers — defense lawyer Jules Zeman of Los Angeles and plaintiffs lawyer Peter Zablotsky of Huntington, N.Y. — all seeming to lean toward eliminating absolute immunity for false police reports. The court is expected to rule within 90 days.

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