PolitiCal

On politics in the Golden State

Category: Courts

Brown takes prison message on the road

Gov. Jerry Brown took his campaign against federal oversight of prisons on the road Tuesday, telling reporters in Los Angeles that further reductions in incarceration would risk public safety.

“We already have reduced our prisons 43,000.” Brown said. “There’s no doubt that if you let people out of prison you increase the potential of crime.”

The governor's remarks come on the heels of court motions filed late Monday to drop population caps intended to improve medical care.

“Most people going to prisons get the best healthcare they’ll ever get,” Brown said, repeating much the same message he delivered earlier in the day to a Sacramento news conference.

"We are spending, not the $300 million we spent four or five years ago but, $2 billion, and that money is coming out of our schools, out of our child care and out of our scholarships for college. Enough already.”

It is up to a panel of three 9th Circuit Court of Appeals judges to determine whether or not California prisons meet their constitutional requirements for providing quality medical care. If, however, the judges do not accept Brown’s case that prisons are no longer overcrowded, he said he will appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.  

In answer to other questions, Brown said he has completed treatment for prostate cancer. "I’m ready to go," he said. "You’re going to have me around to kick for a long time.”  

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-- Wesley Lowery in Los Angeles

Assembly speaker introduces bill to close legal loophole in rape cases

 

JohnPerezAssembly Speaker John A. Perez (D-Los Angeles) has joined with a Republican lawmaker to introduce legislation that would close a legal loophole that led a state appeals court to overturn the rape conviction of a California man.

Citing a 19th century law, the Los Angeles-based 2nd District Court of Appeals ruled last week that a man who impersonates someone in order to have sexual intercourse may be guilty of rape only if the victim was married and the man was pretending to be her husband.

"This is an appalling failure of justice, and I am committed to acting swiftly to prevent a similar occurrence in the future," Perez said in a statement. "Like every Californian, I was deeply disturbed by this decision, and my colleagues and I will work on eliminating this glaring loophole in state law and protect Californians from such a gross violation."

The legislation, AB 65, would expand the definition of rape to include cases where a perpetrator impersonates a person's boyfriend or girlfriend.

Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian (R-San Luis Obispo) is the measure's co-author. He introduced similar legislation in 2011, but it died in the state Senate Public Safety Committee, where lawmakers have a longstanding policy of shelving bills that could exacerbate the state's prison overcrowding crisis.

"Today, Republicans and Democrats are joining together to make an important statement -- the Legislature will not stand for rapists getting away with their heinous acts because of an ancient provision in state law," Achadjian said in a statement. "The overwhelming response last week to an injustice in the law that I’ve been fighting to end for quite some time will give our proposal the strong momentum it needs to be enacted into law."

The legislation has the support of 13 state senators and 30 Assembly members.

Lawmakers vow to close legal loophole in rape cases

Legislators vow to change law on rape by impersonation

Assembly speaker says Senate should clear way for rape bill

-- Michael J. Mishak in Sacramento

twitter.com/mjmishak

Photo: Assembly Speaker John A. Perez speaks on the Assembly floor during the legislative session in 2011. Credit: Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press

Brown fails to produce prison plan, seeks end of court control

Gov. Jerry Brown contends California no longer needs to reduce overcrowding in the state's prisons.

Federal judges had given the state until midnight Monday to file plans showing how California would meet federal caps on prison populations. Instead, in a motion filed late in the day, the governor's lawyers asked the judges to lift those caps.

"The overcrowding and healthcare conditions cited by this court to support its population reduction order are now a distant memory," the state’s lawyers contend.

The governor takes his case on the road Tuesday, with scheduled press conferences in Sacramento and Los Angeles.

Brown's own bid to reduce prison crowding centered on making low-level offenders the responsibility of counties. It has fallen short of the numbers needed, and corrections officials report little change in the state's prison population since September. Nevertheless, the governor insists medical care has improved to levels the court should deem acceptable.

Three federal judges overseeing class action lawsuits over inmate medical, dental and mental health care have threatened since 2007 to require California to release inmates from the state's dangerously overcrowded prisons. The state contends that to remove additional prisoners would put public safety at risk, and that it is up to the Legislature to take other steps such as changing the sentencing laws.

Meanwhile, state prison reports show that since November, California has been increasing the number of inmates shipped out of state. Brown last year said he intended to end the state's contracts with private prison operator Corrections Corp. of America as a way to save money.

According to a July research brief for the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, the state currently spends more than $426 million a year to buy space at prisons operated by the Tennessee-based company. (The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation contends the spending is much lower: $316 million.) The number of out-of-state inmates has run from a high of 10,000 in 2010 to a low of 8,500 last October. State prison population reports show it rose to more than 8,900 in late December.

Going over 9,038 would require modification of California’s contract with CCA.

“There’s always an availability of capacity,” said CCA spokesman Steve Owen.

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Speaker says Senate should clear way for rape bill

-- Paige St. John in Sacramento

Updated 4 p.m. Jan. 8, to attribute source of state spending on out-of-state contracts. The amount is disputed by the state.

Assembly speaker says Senate should clear way for rape bill

Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (D–Los Angeles), right, and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D–Sacramento) last year. Pérez says the Senate should clear the way to change a rape law.Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles) says the state Senate should clear the way for legislation that would overhaul a law that makes it a crime to obtain sex by impersonating another only if the victim is a married woman.

The 19th century law required a state appeals court last week to overturn the rape conviction of a Los Angeles County man who entered a darkened bedroom where a woman was sleeping and had sex with her.

Legislation to change the law passed the Assembly in 2011 but died in the state Senate Public Safety Committee, where lawmakers have a long-standing policy of shelving bills that could exacerbate the state's prison overcrowding crisis.

In light of last week's controversial court ruling, Pérez said in an interview that lawmakers in the upper house should rethink the policy and consider new legislation that would "make sure that a heinous act is properly dealt with."

"I think it's a very problematic way to approach legislation –- to create broad-based rules without respect to the specific underlying facts," he said of the Senate policy. "We’ve gotta fix this, and hopefully the Senate will come to a more reasonable perspective as it deals with this important issue of public safety."

Mark Hedlund, a spokesman for state Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), said senators would probably reexamine the public safety policy, adopted in 2007 to alleviate prison overcrowding and  help the state comply with court-ordered inmate reductions. He noted drops in prison populations under a plan by Gov. Jerry Brown that makes low-level felons the responsibility of counties.

"With those reductions, it gives us a little more breathing room," Hedlund said.

Of the state's rape law, he said: "This obviously needs to be fixed."

Lawmakers vow to close legal loophole in rape cases

Legislators vow to change law on rape by impersonation

Federal budget deal could be reprieve for California finances

-- Michael J. Mishak in Sacramento

twitter.com/mjmishak

Photo: Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (D–Los Angeles), right, and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D–Sacramento) discuss the state budget at the Capitol last year. Credit: Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press

Time runs out for Brown's new prison crowding plan

Monday is the deadline for Gov. Jerry Brown to let federal courts know what more he intends to do about crowding in California's prisons.

Brown’s novel plan, rolled out in 2011, was to improve prison conditions by making low-level felons the responsibility of counties. The gambit has fallen short on two key fronts.

It failed to meet court-ordered caps on prison crowding. Though the inmate population has dropped by 50,000 since 2007, California still has 9,000 prisoners too many. The excess is expected to swell to 12,000 by December 2013 if Brown brings home about 10,000 inmates shipped out of state to for-profit prisons.

It also failed to deliver its promise to taxpayers. Prison spending this year is expected to be $8.6 billion. Although that is a $394-million drop from the year before, Brown’s realignment plan promised to shrink the state corrections bill to $7.8 billion. Corrections is the third-largest part of California’s budget, behind public schools and healthcare for the poor and elderly.

A panel of three federal judges presiding over class-action lawsuits dealing with inmate health, medical and dental care gave the governor three months to “outline” how he will achieve the required reductions, and when.  The order also specifically asks the state to identify, by Monday, which laws would have to be waived, either by the governor or by the court, to put any new prison plans into place.

Civil rights advocates hope for something more than what the state has said repeatedly in past situations to the court: that short of an order or change in law, there is nothing more the governor can do.

"I’d think that an expansion of earned time credits might be at least a component of that plan," said Will Matthews, of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California. Giving inmates ways to shorten their sentences, Matthews said, "would be good in that it’d incentivize more prisoners to take advantage of rehabilitation, education and skills-training programs." 

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Lawmakers vow to close loophole in rape law

--Paige St. John in Sacramento

 

Lawmakers vow to close legal loophole in rape cases

State lawmakers are vowing to close a legal loophole cited by a state appeals court this week in a controversial ruling that overturned the rape conviction of a California man.

On Wednesday, the Los Angeles-based 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled that a man who impersonates someone in order to have sexual intercourse may be guilty of rape only if the victim was married and the man was pretending to be her husband.

The court urged the Legislature to change the state's archaic rape law to "correct the incongruity that exists when a man may commit rape … when impersonating a husband, but not when impersonating a boyfriend."

On Friday, lawmakers pledged to introduce legislation to close the loophole.

“Californians are justifiably outraged by this court ruling," said Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian (R-San Luis Obispo) in a statement, "and it is important that the Legislature join together to close whatever loopholes may exist in the law and uphold justice for rape victims."

Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) said she would join Achadjian in introducing legislation that would expand the definition of rape to include those impersonating the victim's boyfriend or significant other.

"The current definition in state law is a relic from the 1870s," Lowenthal said in a statement. "Allowing this to stand in the 21st century would be like applying horse and buggy standards to our freeways."

State Sen. Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, also vowed to act.

"Having sex with an unconscious person is rape. Period," she said.

The decision of the state appeals court voided the conviction of Julio Morales, who in 2009 entered a sleeping woman's dark bedroom after her boyfriend walked out and began having intercourse with her. The woman screamed and resisted when she awoke and realized Morales was not her boyfriend, the court said.

Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris pledged to work with lawmakers to change the law.

“The evidence is clear that this case involved a nonconsensual assault that fits within the general understanding of what constitutes rape," Harris said in a statement.

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--Michael J. Mishak in Sacramento

twitter.com/mjmishak

 

Some county judges change sentencing patterns

California's new felon imprisonment law, which requires low-level offenders to serve their time in county jail rather than state prison, is beginning to reshape how some county judges hand down those sentences.

A study by the Chief Probation Officers of California finds an increasing number of judges using split sentences, requiring offenders to spend part of their time in jail and the other part in a community program or under probation. Without a split sentence, the entire term is spent in jail and when offenders are released, there is no followup.

From the time the new prison law took effect in October 2011 to June 2012, the probation officers group reports, 23% of all local prison sentences were split. That means an increase in the responsibilities of county probation offices, but a lighter load on jails.

However, the organization says there is an inconsistent use of the sentencing tool among the state's 58 counties. Judges in 18 counties deliver split sentences to more than half their felons, including Contra Costa and San Joaquin. On the other hand, only 5% of Los Angeles County felons, for example, are given split sentences. 

Probation departments also are responsible for providing post-release supervision of low-level offenders that remain in California's prisons. The probation officers group says 29,000 such former state prisoners now report to county probation.

The number of felons now under county jurisdiction is now much closer to what the state told counties to expect when realignment was enacted in 2011. The state total was 106% of the predicted number in June, down from 140% of the prediction in October 2011. 

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Judge blocks ban on gay 'conversion' therapy

A federal judge on Monday blocked California from enforcing its new ban on therapy that seeks to change the sexual orientation of minors from gay to straight.

U.S. District Judge William Shubb ruled that the new law, SB 1172, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown earlier this year, may inhibit the 1st Amendment rights of therapists who oppose homosexuality. The judge signed a temporary injunction that prohibits the state from enforcing the ban, the first of its kind in the nation, against the three plaintiffs in the suit pending trial.

The plaintiffs are represented by the conservative Pacific Justice Institute, which expressed confidence that the injunction could also apply to other therapists who choose to be added as plaintiffs.

Shubb wrote in his 38-page ruling that the new law, by state Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Los Angeles) “likely… bans a mental health provider from expressing his or her viewpoints about homosexuality as part of…treatment.”

The judge also found fault with the evidence cited by proponents of the law that conversion therapy puts patients at risk of suicide. He wrote in his ruling that it is “based on questionable and scientifically incomplete studies that may not have included minors.”

The plaintiffs in the case include a licensed marriage therapist and ordained minister, a psychiatrist and a former conversion therapy patient who is studying to practice the therapy on others.

"This victory sends a clear signal to all those who feel they can stifle religious freedom, free speech, and the rights of parents without being contested," said Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute .

The ban on conversion therapy was one of the signature laws passed in the last legislative session. Its approval followed a fierce lobbying campaign by gay-rights groups. The law had been set to take effect in January.

When Brown signed SB 1172, he said in a statement, "these practices have no basis in science or medicine and they will now be relegated to the dustbin of quackery."

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Ex-campaign treasurer Kinde Durkee sentenced to 8 years in prison

Campaign Treasurer Charged.JPEG–01f49Former campaign treasurer Kinde Durkee was sentenced to eight years in prison on Wednesday and a judge ordered her to pay more than $10.5 million to victims including state and federal politicians from whom she stole political funds.

U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller in Sacramento accepted the recommendation of federal prosecutors that Durkee, a former go-to treasurer for Democrats, spend 97 months in federal custody. Durkee pleaded guilty in March to five counts of mail fraud.

In making that plea, Durkee admitted to the theft of $7 million from more than 50 victims, but the judge Wednesday ordered her to pay restitution of more than $10.5 million that 77 victims claim to have lost, including expenses incurred in establishing the losses. However, to pay the restitution Durkee has so far produced only $91,000 from a retirement account. Durkee apologized in court "to those who trusted me and I betrayed."

The judge called the crime a "significant and egregious offense."

Durkee's victims included the campaigns of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Democratic Reps. Laura Richardson of Long Beach, Loretta Sanchez of Garden Grove, Linda T. Sanchez of Lakewood and Susan A. Davis of San Diego.

In a sentencing memorandum, U.S. Atty. Benjamin B. Wagner called the penalty "an appropriate sentence," adding, "This sentence will reflect the seriousness of the offense, provide just punishment, and afford adequate deterrence."

Federal authorities said most of the money went to keeping Durkee's campaign finance business afloat, paying her mortgage and covering other expenses, including Dodgers and Disneyland tickets.

Her attorney, Daniel V. Nixon, wrote in a court filing that Durkee had shown remorse for her actions and cooperated with authorities.

"Ms. Durkee acknowledges that her conduct amounted to a serious criminal offense, she breached the trust placed in her by her clients and caused the campaigns to suffer significant material loss," the filing by Nixon says.

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Photo: Former campaign treasurer Kinde Durkee. Credit: California Democratic Council

Court order forces state to release 'repulsive' inmate

StevenMartinez AP Norma Martinez

On orders of a San Diego appeals court, California prison officials have agreed to release a bedridden inmate court officials themselves describe as "an angry, repulsive person."

The quadriplegic inmate, Steven Martinez, was the first in 2011 to apply and then be denied release under California's then-new medical parole law allowing the release of inmates who require 24-hour nursing care. The program was designed to save the state money by moving California's costliest prisoners into community hospitals and nursing centers where the federal government will foot half the bill for their care.

Martinez was sentenced to 157 years or more in prison after a 1998 attack in which he ran over a woman with his car, beat, abducted and then raped her. Three years into his sentence, another inmate stabbed him in the neck, slicing his spinal cord and paralyzing him.

The Board of Parole Hearings in May 2011 agreed Martinez requires 24-hour nursing care, but rejected his release. Citing scores of reports that Martinez verbally assaulted and threatened his prison caretakers, the board ruled that even though paralyzed from the neck down, he remained a public threat.

The Fourth Appellate Court in San Diego in late October said that conclusion is not reasonable, and ordered that Martinez be released. Corrections spokesman Luis Patino said the parole board Wednesday agreed to release Martinez to an undisclosed facility, pending a routine 10-day review. He would be the 48th inmate paroled under the two-year-old program. Corrections records show only six other applicants have been denied.

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 -- Paige St. John in Sacramento

Photo: Corcoron State Prison inmate Steven Martinez was ordered released on parole Wednesday after court officials said the quadriplegic's verbal threats and behavior pose no "reasonable" public threat. Credit: Associated Press /Norma Martinez

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