California DJJ Must Appoint Attorneys for all Youth

February 15, 2008

(Sacramento, CA – January 29, 2008) – A federal judge ruled today that the California Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) appoint attorneys to represent “each and every” DJJ parolee in parole revocation proceedings beginning no later than February 15, 2008.  The case, L.H. v. Schwarzenegger, Civ. No. 2:06-cv-02042, is a class action suit filed in 2006 on behalf of more than 4,000 California juvenile parolees.

The order to DJJ comes after Judge Karlton’s September 19, 2007 ruling that DJJ was violating youths’ constitutional rights of due process and right to counsel in parole proceedings.  In the September decision, Judge Karlton ordered the state to propose a remedial plan to ensure due process and the right to counsel for DJJ parolees.  Plaintiffs argued to the court that DJJ’s proposed plan was inadequate and would take too long to implement, which led to today’s ruling.

Judge Karlton wrote today that “juvenile parolees are a special class of parolees for whom appointment of counsel is always appropriate.”  He also ordered DJJ to develop policies and procedures by March 15, 2008, to ensure compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“We are pleased that the court has set strict deadlines to protect juvenile’s constitutional rights,” said Gay Crosthwait Grunfeld, of Rosen, Bien & Galvan, a San Francisco law firm, and an attorney for the plaintiffs.  “For too long there have been delays and unfulfilled promises from the State.”

Judge Karlton’s ruling also allows youth to obtain counsel of his or her own choosing, including his or her own public defender, appointed counsel, retained attorneys, or pro bono counsel.  San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi had attempted to represent a youth in a parole revocation hearing prior to the filing of L.H. and was rebuffed by the state.

“Because of the state’s failure to meet well-established constitutional norms, youth have been warehoused at jails and juvenile detention facilities for months before they receive a hearing, even for technical violations of parole such as drinking alcohol,” said Sue Burrell, a Staff Attorney at Youth Law Center, and an attorney for the youth.

The L.H. suit charged 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 plaintiff youth are represented by attorneys from the San Francisco law firms of Rosen, Bien & Galvan; Bingham McCutchen; and the non-profit Youth Law Center.