By DON THOMPSON Associated Press Writer
SACRAMENTO — A federal judge on Thursday blocked a portion of a crime victims’ rights measure approved by California voters in November that restricts legal rights for parole violators.
U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton of Sacramento ruled that a permanent federal injunction previously agreed to by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s administration trumps voters’ support for Proposition 9.
The administration agreed in 2004 to provide, at taxpayers’ expense, lawyers for ex-convicts who risk being sent back to prison for violating parole conditions. It also requires the state to act quickly on parole violation allegations and to set up rehabilitation programs that can be used instead of returning the violator to a cell.
Karlton rejected the administration’s argument that voters’ approval of the ballot measure nullifies the administration’s settlement of the class-action inmate rights lawsuit. The measure was supported by 53 percent of voters.
While the Schwarzenneger administration supported the original settlement, its lawyers say the administration is legally bound to uphold voters’ will. The authors of Proposition 9 had written language into the initiative intended to overturn the lawsuit settlement.
That’s not enough to overturn the injunction, Karlton concluded:
“A change in state law standing alone is not the type of change in factual circumstance that renders continued enforcement of a consent decree inequitable,” he wrote in a 34-page opinion.
It costs the state about $30 million annually to provide alleged parole violators with lawyers, according to corrections officials. Victims groups say the agreement exceeds constitutional requirements, though attorneys representing inmates say it is cheaper than other ways of protecting ex-convicts’ legal rights.
Proposition 9 writes victims’ rights into the California Constitution and contains numerous other restrictions on criminals that are not affected by Karlton’s ruling.
Administration lawyers previously said they are required by state law to appeal Karlton’s decision to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
“This is an unfortunate reversal of the will of California voters,” Nina Salarno Ashford, founder and board member of Crime Victims United of California, said in a statement. “What’s worse is that we should never have been at this point in the first place.”
She blamed the administration for agreeing to the 2004 settlement.
The settlement ensures that parole can’t be revoked without a proper and swift hearing, responded attorney Ernest Galvan, who represented parolees in the case.
“What Judge Karlton did protects that process,” Galvan said. “I think it’s a win for public safety in California. I think what we’re learning every day is we need to use our scarce prison beds to keep the dangerous people behind bars and to give the parole agents the tools to keep the less dangerous parolees in the community.”
Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesman Seth Unger said the administration is reviewing Karlton’s decision. Corrections officials never implemented the portions of Proposition 9 overturned in Karlton’s decision because the judge had entered a temporary stay immediately after the November election.
“We are implementing the will of the people on Marsy’s Law aside from the areas which the court has ordered us not to implement,” Unger said, using the proposition nickname adopted by supporters.
That includes giving more notice to crime victims and delaying parole hearings for inmates serving life sentences. Previously, inmates serving life sentences were entitled to a hearing every one- to five years, but now they are eligible every three- to 15 years.