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Key portion of victims-rights proposition thrown out by judge

March 26, 2009 |  2:53 pm

A key part of a victims-rights measure that voters approved in November has been overturned by a federal judge, who ruled the state must provide attorneys for parole violators when it is considering whether to send them back to prison.

Senior Judge Lawrence K. Karlton of the U.S. District Court in Sacramento ruled against Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the state in issuing an injunction against that part of Proposition 9.

The initiative dictates that the state provide legal counsel to parole violators only under certain circumstances, including when the cases are unusually complex or when the parolee has issues of mental competency. Proponents of Proposition 9 said the measure provides for state legal counsel in about 15% of parole revocation hearings. They say that would save the state $40 million annually in prison expenses.

The judge said legal counsel must be provided in all hearings.

“This is a costly and unnecessary standard for California to use and should be overturned,” said Nina Salarno Ashford, executive board member of Crime Victims United of California. “Especially now, we cannot afford to be spending tens of millions of dollars on unnecessary privileges for convicted felons. Proposition 9 strikes the perfect balance by protecting the constitutional rights of parolees while saving the state tens of millions of dollars a year."

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of a group of parolees by prisoners-rights attorney Ernest J. Galvan, who was not immediately available for comment.

-- Patrick McGreevy