By Prison Legal News

The California Court of Appeal held on November 16, 2012 that billing and payment records reflecting the amount of money a government agency paid in attorney fees to defend against a pending civil rights action were not exempt from disclosure under the California Public Records Act (CPRA), Government Code § 6250 et seq., even if the information was sought by a person seeking to assist the plaintiff litigants.

Attorneys David Mann and Donald Cook represent the plaintiffs in a civil rights lawsuit that has been pending in Los Angeles County Superior Court since 1999. That suit, which arose out of the arrest and detention of a husband and wife by members of the county’s Task Force for Regional Autotheft Prevention, has been the subject of numerous appellate proceedings, including Venegas v. County of Los Angeles, 153 Cal. App. 4th 1230 (Cal. App. 2d Dist. 2007). Following an unpublished appellate decision in August 2011, the case was remanded to the lower court for trial on the sole remaining claim involving a violation of Civil Code § 52.1.

Attorney Cynthia Anderson-Barker, a colleague of Mann and Cook, filed a public records request seeking documents pertaining to billings from, and payments to, any law firm representing the county in the Venegas litigation. After the county denied the CPRA request, Anderson-Barker, represented by Mann and Cook, filed a petition for writ of mandate to compel disclosure of the records.

The county argued in response to the petition that, under the CPRA’s “pending litigation” exemption (Government Code § 6254(b)), as well as other exemptions, it was not required to produce the documents. The trial court ruled in favor of Anderson-Barker, though ordered redactions to remove attorney work product-related information from the requested billing and payment records.

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By Matt Clarke

In 2009, former Harris County, Texas state district judge Woodrow “Woody” Densen was caught on surveillance video keying a neighbor’s car, causing significant damage. The video received widespread media coverage. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of criminal mischief and agreed to pay a $1,500 fine and over $6,000 in restitution. [See: PLN, June 2010, p.50; Aug. 2009, p.1].

Six months later, in October 2010, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct (SCJC) imposed disciplinary sanctions on Judge Densen: It gave him a public warning.

The slap on the wrist that Densen received was infinitely more discipline than the SCJC meted out to the vast majority of judges who were the subject of complaints. Less than 4% of the 1,192 complaints against judges received by the SCJC in fiscal year (FY) 2011 resulted in any disciplinary action.

For example, on August 4, 2011, PLN managing editor Alex Friedmann filed a complaint with the SCJC against Angelina County Judge Derek C. Flournoy, related to comments made by Judge Flournoy in a criminal case. Following a sentencing hearing, Flournoy was quoted in a news report as saying to the defendant, Marco Sauceda, “I haven’t heard from you and I have no idea why you didn’t speak [at the sentencing hearing]. That causes me some trouble.”

According to Friedmann’s complaint, “In drawing a negative inference from Mr. Sauceda’s decision not to testify or speak, Judge Flournoy ran afoul of over four decades of Supreme Court jurisprudence that prohibits courts from penalizing or drawing negative inferences when defendants exercise their Constitutional right not to speak or testify.” The complaint noted that the Supreme Court had specifically addressed this issue in Mitchell v. United States, 526 U.S. 314, 330 (1999), and the Texas Court of Appeals had acknowledged that defendants have a right to remain silent during sentencing hearings in Lucero v. State, 91 S.W.3d 814, 816 (Tex. App. 2002).

Regardless, the SCJC declined to take any disciplinary action against Judge Flournoy – a typical outcome for most complaints filed against Texas judges.

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By Prison Legal News

Autumn Miller, the mother of the deceased baby, who was named Gracie, filed a federal lawsuit against CCA on March 8, 2013. See: Miller v. CCA, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Tex.), Case No. 3:13-cv-01022-L.

According to an investigative report by CBS 11, at least eight prisoners have died at the Dawson State Jail since 2004. One of those deaths involved diabetic prisoner Pam D. Weatherby, 45. An internal CCA document indicated that jail staff “did not follow proper procedures, in that they did not call a medical professional and advise them of the offender vomiting, prior to the medical staff arriving” at the facility. Weatherby died in July 2011; she was serving one year for drug possession. Her family has since filed a wrongful death suit against CCA. See: Alfano v. CCA, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Texas), Case No. 3:11-cv-01006-P.

“Private prisons siphon public taxpayer dollars into corporate profit,” noted PLN managing editor Alex Friedmann. “They slash [medical] services to funnel money to their shareholders and executives, and people die. Even when we don’t need these for-profit prisons, they are rarely shuttered until the scandals reach critical mass.”

“Prisons and jails operated by CCA and other profit-making corporations have been responsible for dozens of scandals around Texas,” added Bob Libal, director of Grassroots Leadership, a non-profit organization that opposes prison privatization. “In the last ten years alone, there have been instances of medical neglect, sexual abuse and preventable suicide in private facilities in Austin, Bartlett, Beaumont, Big Spring, Bronte, Dallas, Del Rio, Eden, Encinal, Falfurrias, Fort Worth, Henderson, Liberty, Littlefield, Pearsall, Pecos, Raymondville, Spur, Taylor, Texarkana and Waco.”

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