Judge Denies State’s Motion To Dismiss Federal Lawsuit Challenging California’s Unconstitutional Juvenile Parole System
Sacramento, CA – February 28, 2007 – Federal district Judge Lawrence Karlton today denied the State of California’s attempt to have the court throw out a lawsuit challenging the state’s unconstitutional parole system. The opinion also certified a class of 4000 juvenile parolees in California who face the possibility of spending weeks or months locked up on parole violation charges without any sort of hearing, or even knowing the charges against them.
The case, L.H. v. Schwarzennegger, was filed last September after months of unsuccessfully lobbying the defendants, who include the Governor, the Division of Juvenile Justice, and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, to treat juvenile parolees in the same manner they are required to treat adult parolees under a prior agreement in the 2002 case of Valdivia v. Schwarzennegger. The juvenile parole case was filed by the San Francisco law firms of Bingham McCutchen, Rosen, Bien & Galvan, LLP, and the Youth Law Center.
One of the juveniles’ attorneys, Michael Bien of Rosen, Bien and Galvan said, “Juveniles must receive effective communication in all phases of parole revocation. The Department of Juvenile Justice cannot ignore the serious mental and communication disabilities of this population.”
Karen Kennard of the law firm Bingham McCutchen said, “These rulings will allow this important case to go forward so that we can achieve the same rights for juvenile parolees in California that the State already provides for adult parolees. The notion that juveniles deserve less due process than adults is so far-fetched that I would be surprised if the State continues to litigate this issue, especially in light of the new Attorney General’s pronouncement in January that he intends to settle lawsuits rather than waste the State’s money on unnecessary litigation.”
Sue Burrell, Staff Attorney at Youth Law Center agreed, stating, “It is shocking that we provide attorneys, preliminary hearings, and other due process protections to adult parolees but not to the juveniles, an extremely vulnerable group that is routinely denied adequate education, mental health services, and substance abuse treatment. As a result of the state’s unconstitutional practices, youth can be warehoused at one of the terrible juvenile detention facilities for months before they receive any hearing, even for technical violations of parole such as drinking alcohol. The process is flawed and unfair.”
The L.H. suit charges that lengthy parole holds are routinely imposed without proper or timely notice to the juveniles of the reasons for the detention. Juvenile parolees often do not learn of the reasons why parole is being revoked until they have been in custody for weeks or months. Nor does the State provide youth with preliminary or probable cause hearings. In the vast majority of revocations, the defendants also deny juveniles the right to have witnesses testify on their behalf, to present evidence to defend or mitigate the charges, or to have an attorney. In addition, the State fails to provide language translators, sign language interpreters, hearing devices, and other accommodations to assure that youth can understand and participate in the parole revocation hearings.
The case has four named plaintiffs, who are suing the state in pseudonym on behalf of a class of all juvenile parolees.
Among them are: L.H., who has been in special education since childhood, and who needs assistance with reading. He was detained on a parole hold for being drinking alcohol while living at a substance abuse center. After more than a month in DJJ custody without a preliminary hearing, the wrong file was brought to his revocation hearing by the parole officer. The hearing was postponed for another three weeks due to the file mix-up, and L.H. spent more than two months in custody before it was held. When his case was eventually heard by the parole board, he was forced to represent himself, was given inadequate time to contact witnesses to testify on his behalf, and was sentenced to several more months in custody to complete a substance abuse program. L.H. had been working in the community while on parole, was already in a substance abuse program, was involved in his church, and had strong support from his girlfriend, mentor, and family.
D.K., who has a history of substance abuse and does not have a high school diploma or G.E.D. despite spending most of his high school years in DJJ. He was detained on an allegedly positive drug test and brought to a DJJ detention facility. He did not receive a copy of the drug test results nor a preliminary hearing. At his revocation hearing, D.K. was not allowed to have his mentor testify on his behalf. D.K. also specifically asked for the assistance of an attorney, and his request was denied by the parole board. He was released from custody at his revocation hearing for time served, but he lost his job as a result of the time spent in custody.
Judge Karlton’s order also denied the State’s attempt reveal the full names of the plaintiffs, who sued using only their initials in order to prevent retaliation and protect their privacy.