L.H. v. Brown is a federal class action lawsuit filed in September 2006 in the Eastern District of California challenging systematic constitutional violations of youth rights in California Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) parole revocation proceedings. (Case No. S-06-CV-2042 (E.D. Cal., originally filed as L.H. v. Schwarzenegger). YLC has worked with lead counsel from Rosen, Bien, Galvan and Grunfeld, and co-counsel from Bingham McCutchen, and Prison Law Office on the case. Originally, the litigation team sought treatment of the case as a supplemental complaint to Valdivia v. Schwarzenegger, Case No. 94-0671 (E.D. Cal.), which resulted in an injunction requiring the State to provide adults undergoing parole revocation proceedings with counsel, prompt probable cause hearings, consideration of alternative sanctions, and significant due process protections. The Court determined instead, that L.H. should be treated as a “related case.”
In L.H., the plaintiffs alleged that lengthy parole holds were routinely imposed without proper or timely notice to the juveniles of the reasons for the detention. Juvenile parolees were not informed of the precise charges against them until they had been in custody for weeks or months, and in many cases the charges were actually changed late in the process. The suit charged that in the vast majority of revocations, DJJ denied juveniles the right to have witnesses testify on their behalf, to present evidence to defend or mitigate the charges, or to have an attorney. The suit also charged that DJJ failed to provide accommodations mandated under federal law for those youths suffering from mental or physical disabilities.
Although many of the rights sought by the lawsuit had already been granted to adult inmates in California, the State refused to extend them to juvenile parolees, and the case was fought through a series of pretrial motions, including one resulting in an Order published by the Court, 519 F.Supp.2d 1072 (E.D. Cal. 2007). On January 29, 2008, Judge Lawrence K. Karlton found that DJJ was violating juvenile parolees’ due process rights in parole hearings, and ordered that attorneys be appointed to represent “each and every” DJJ parolee in revocation proceedings. Judge Karlton also ruled that DJJ was violating federal disability laws by not providing interpreters and other accommodations to assure that youth can understand and participate in parole revocation hearings.
After nearly two years of legal proceedings, a settlement was reached on June 4, 2008. Elements of the settlement agreement include:
•Attorneys will be appointed for every juvenile parolee who has been charged with a violation of parole within 8 business days of the parole hold;
•Juveniles must receive a preliminary probable cause hearing within 13 business days of the parole hold;
•If there is probable cause to hold the youth, the juveniles must receive a full revocation hearing within 35 calendar days of the parole hold;
•Juveniles have the right to present evidence and witnesses at their probable cause and revocation hearings;
•Clear policies must be developed that spell out which behavior warrants revocation of parole or a return to a DJJ facility;
•Youth who are not revoked must be released promptly and DJJ must end a policy of “temporary detention” for youth continued on parole;
•Juveniles cannot be returned to DJJ for more than a year, and a revocation cannot be extended beyond a year, except for cases of serious in-custody misconduct;
•Accommodations for mental and physical disabilities and for effective communications, including language translation for non-English speakers, must be provided at all stages of the parole revocation process;
•Youth must no longer be automatically shackled during revocation proceedings and policies must be developed to govern when and how a youth is restrained; and
•A prompt administrative appeal system must be developed that includes the appointment of attorneys.
Because many aspects of the settlement required the development of data systems, an attorney appointment system, the development of policies and procedures, training, and implementation, co-counsel have remained actively involved in the post-settlement phase of the case. Further, in a series of legislative enactments “realigning” state functions to the counties, significant parts of the parole process have been shifted to the counties, and co-counsel have remained vigilant to assure that the rights afforded to the L.H. class under the settlement are still protected. Full realignment of juvenile parole to the counties is expected to be complete by January 2013.