Results tagged “Gov. Jerry Brown” from The Court Reporter

Fixing California's Prisons Could Be Very Long and Costly Battle For Taxpayers

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The Star reported Wednesday that Gov. Jerry Brown is asking a federal three judge panel to drop its order for further reduction of the prison inmate population.

Brown is quoted as saying that the prison overcrowding problem has been fixed.

"The prison emergency is over in California is over," Brown is quoted in the front-page article. "The trouble situation in California prisons has been remedied.  It is now time to return control of the prison system to California."

Inmate-advocate groups decried Brown's actions, saying overcrowding remains a severe problem and that remedies exist to fix that situation without endangering public safety, the article stated.

Good luck, governor.

There are two inmate lawsuits that made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court that should concern  California taxpayers:  the 1972 case of Ruiz vs. Estelle and the  2007 case of Jones vs. Bock.

Ruiz vs. Estelle underscores the staying power of the federal courts, and Jones vs. Bock clears the way for inmates to file civil rights complaints and rejecting the existing law that stated that inmates had to exhaust prison grievance procedures before suing the prison about their treatment.

I recall while working in El Paso and covering the courts and the criminal justice system after the federal courts had taken control over the state's prison system, which resulted in a 10 year takeover.

The litigation started when a prison inmate,  David Ruiz, sued the director of the Texas Department of Corrections, William J. Estelle in 1972.

The Ruiz vs. Estelle case was the longest running prison lawsuit in U.S. history, costing taxpayers millions of dollars.

Citing violation violations of the 8th Amendment, inmate David Ruiz said Texas' prison constituted "cruel and unusual punishment" including overcrowding, inadequate security, inadequate health care (sound familiar), unsafe working conditions and severe and arbitrary disciplinary procedures.

"If you cage an animal and kick him every day, one day that animal is going to attack," Ruiz told an AP reporter in a 1992 interview. "I never asked for a Holiday Inn. I asked to be treated as a human being."

After eight years of legal haggling, the case went to trial. The trial lasted 129 days, resulting in a U.S. District Court in Tyler, Texas ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, citing mistreatment, institutionalized neglect and inadequate resources.

In his ruling and after listening to 80 witnesses,  federal Judge William Wayne Justice ruled:  "The evidence before the court revealed a prison in which rapes, beatings and servitude are the currency of power. To preserve their physical safety, some vulnerable inmates simply subject to being bought and sold among groups of prison predators...To expect such a world to rehabilitate wrong-doers is absurd. To allow such a world to exist is unconstitutional."

 Judge Justice ordered sweeping and dramatic changes in the state's prison system.

Texas officials filed appeals that lead to reversing parts of Justice's 1980 ruling.

An agreement was reached that there would be a 95 percent prison capacity, the separation of hardcore offenders from other inmates, the hiring of more prison guards and improving of the medical treatment of prisoners.

Judge Justice had an iron hand on the oversight of the prison system until 1994, and maintained limited control until 2003.

To comply with the 95 percent cap, prisoners were given early releases for good behavior and others, usually nonviolent criminals, served only a fraction of their prison sentences.

I recall an interview with then El Paso Sheriff Leo Samaniego, a no-nonsense and tough lawman, about the inmates convicted in El Paso serving a few years of lengthy prison sentences.

"They just go up there to take a shower and they put them back on the bus and send them back," Samaniego  quipped in frustration with his Mex-Tex drawl. "Why even bother?"

One white-collar criminal given a 10-year prison returned to the county after service less than three years.

There were hundreds of other examples of early prisoner releases to the community. Some were violent criminals.

The state residents were outraged and demanded changes.  State prison officials processed newly arrived prisoners through the front doors and released others through the back door to keep from violating Judge Justice's 95 prison capacity ruling.

The recidivism rate rose dramatically.

The newspaper,  El Paso Herald-Post, sent myself, reporter Jim Bole and a female photographer named Nan (can't recall her last name) to report on the broken Lone Star State's prisons.

I wrote about Judge Justice's ruling dismantled the prison's "building tenders" system.  Building tenders were handpicked goons who were given carte blanche by the prison guards to beat, rape, murder and torture other inmates believed to be troublemakers or who were complaining.

I remember this is what the prison guards called this building-tender brutality on inmates: "A little thump therapy to set his heart right."


After the building tender system was dissolved, there was a power vacuum in the prison system.

Inmates began forming groups, mostly along racial lines.  First the groups were organized for protection and cultural pride. Soon, it was to control the drugs, prostitution, extortion and power inside the prison walls.

Prison gangs -- Texas Syndicate, Mexican Mafia,  Aryan Brotherhood to name a few -- were formed and it resulted in an explosion of violence in 1980s.

By the end of the 1980s, Texas residents, many who had disdain for Judge Justice, decided to pay for a billion dollar prison construction to relieve the overcrowding   that expanded the prison units from 18 at the time of the Ruiz trial to more than 90 units by the 1990s.

The Jones vs. Bock case means that jailhouse lawyers can now circumvent the prison's grievance system

Inmates can now go directly to the federal courts with their civil rights complaints, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2007.

David Ruiz, who filed the historic lawsuit, was the son of migrant farm workers and the youngest of 13 children.

He was a self-educated jailhouse lawyer who took on human rights abuses in prison.

Ruiz wrote his 1972 complain that was handwritten at least partially on toilet paper, according to published reports.

Ruiz died of natural causes in prison on Nov. 11, 2005. He was serving a life-sentence for aggravated robbery and had spent all but four years of his adult life in prison.

At his funeral was Judge Justice who was 86 years old, sat quietly among family, friends and ex-prisoners. The funeral service was held at a church in East Austin, according to published reports.

 

For more information on Ruiz vs. Estelle: http://www.laits.utexas.edu/txp_media/html/just/features/0505_01/ruiz.html

 

Courthouse Budget Deficit Could Go Up Another $3 Million

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The financial train wreck known as the state budget is expected to take another large chunk from California's courthouses, many are still limping from the last cuts, including Ventura County.

Ventura County Superior Court Executive Officer Michael Planet said Friday that the budget deficit this fiscal year, which begins on July,  is now expected  to be as high as $13 million, up  $3 million.

This means austere reductions, including closing and relocating all the Simi Valley courtrooms to Ventura by June 25.

"It's not clear what the impact will be on the trial courts," said Planet, adding that the state's courthouses need more clarification from Sacramento.

Planet said everything will be reviewed, including more cuts in staff and hours, which will result in longer lines to file and retrieve court records.

"Everything is on the table," he said.

The state is facing a $16.7 billion shortfall, and the budget is set to be adopted on June 15.

Gov. Jerry Brown is cutting many programs and services throughout  the state including $544 million in funding to the judicial branch for fiscal year 2012-2013.

Thursday, a special session was called by Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye, chair of the Judicial Council in Sacramento after the governor announced the $544 million cut for the judicial branch in fiscal year 2012-2013.

On Friday, Cantil-Sakauye appointed a 10-member ad hoc group of judicial branch leaders who will lead budget negotiations on the Governor's proposals.

Ana Matasantos, the director of the state Department of Finance, was questioned Thursday about the governor's new proposals for drastic reductions in the judicial branch budget, according to state officials.

Cantil-Sakauye said Thursday that the courts have been so successful in protecting essential services that the governor believes that trial courts haven't been harmed from the tens of millions taken from the judicial branch.

Matosantos maintains that the trial courts have "substantial reserves" and believe that the local reserve system should be modified. 

This means sweeping changes in the way the courts are funded, officials state.

This modification should include setting up a reserve of 3 percent  allocated by the Judicial Council bases on uniform criteria.

Planet said the nuts and bolts of how this reserve fund will work is still in limbo.

Of the $544 million proposed reduction in the May budget revise, $300 million would come from the trial court reserves. Another $240 million would come from delays in court construction, and $4 million in increased retirement contributions from state court employees, according to Matosantos.

Planet said the blows of the deep cuts have been felt in the Ventura and other courthouses.

More recently, as of June 25 all the misdemeanor and family courts at the Simi Valley courthouse will officially be located in Ventura, Planet said.

All but one family court have moved to Ventura from Simi Valley, said Planet.

There are discussions underway on whether to close down the remaining courts that hear traffic, landlord-tenant and small claims disputes, according to Planet.

There have been many staff and other reductions in Ventura County.

Ventura has lost 70 courthouse positions in the last three years, and records and case filing windows now close at 3 p.m., Planet said.  In addition, there is a work-furlough program that mandates that many Ventura court workers, including management,  take 13, 15 or 18 unpaid days off each year.

Management positions are mandated days to take the most days off. There is the week-long Christmas closure of Ventura's courts, Planet noted.

Ventura County courts have numerous functions and expenses, including collections, interpreting services, jury services, court reporters, judicial assistants, court records and criminal, civil and juvenile cases.

One of the hardest hit courthouses in the state budget crisis is the Los Angeles County Superior Court. 

 In April, Los Angeles Court officials announced that by the end of June they would reduce its staff by nearly 350 workers, close 56 courtroom, reduce the use of court reporters and end the Informal Juvenile Traffic Courts.he courtroom being impacted include 24 civil, 24 criminal, three family, a probate and four juvenile courts.

As of May 15, Los Angeles Superior Court will no longer provide court reporters for civil trials.

The Court Reporter
Raul Hernandez has spent years writing stories about the drama that unfolds in the courtroom. Here he answers common questions, share some insights on the judicial system and passes along some of the little things that make the Ventura County courts an interesting place to be. You can contact him at rhernandez@vcstar.com.