On March 27, 1981, a prisoner at the jail in Santa Clara County, California, appearing before a state judge to plead guilty to grand theft, handed the judge a petition for habeas corpus, challenging the conditions of confinement which were alleged to include overcrowding and inhumane conditions. The Santa Clara County Superior Court (Judge Bruce Allen) invited a local public interest lawyer, at the Public Interest Law Foundation, to convert the case to a class action and represent the prisoners. In Auguest 1981, he found that overcrowded and inhumane conditions at the jail violated the inmates' constitutional rights. The Court ordered the county to take specific steps to eliminate the unconstitutional conditions. The county moved for extraordinary relief and filed notices of appeal. Shortly thereafter, pre-hearing conferences were held by the California Court of Appeals pursuant to rule 19.5 of the California Rules of Court. The conferences resulted in a stipulated settlement which treated the habeas corpus proceeding as an action for the violation of the inmates' constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. §1983.
The agreement required the county to provide at the jail additional beds, a public works labor program, adequate staffing, improved medical services and food service, increased access to the law library, increased visitation hours, increased exercise opportunities for inmates, and a population cap. The stipulated settlement also provided for the entry of a "final judgment and consent decree." The stipulated settlement was approved by the pre-hearing conference judge of the Court of Appeals and filed. Pursuant to the agreement, the clerk of the Court of Appeals issued a remittitur on February 1, 1983, which directed the clerk of the Superior Court to enter the final judgment and consent decree. However, the Court of Appeals, on its own motion, recalled the remittitur according to rule 25(d) of the California Rules of Court because the stipulated final judgment and consent decree had not been approved by a panel of three judges of the Court of Appeals. The county then filed a motion to "confirm" the final judgment and consent decree and for re-issuance of the remittitur pursuant to the stipulation.
The California Court of Appeals, First District (Judge Caldecott), held that before a Court of Appeal may order entry of a new judgment by stipulation or consent, the stipulation must be considered by a three-judge panel and approved by at least two judges of that panel. In re Branson
, 190 Cal. Rptr. 412 (Cal. Ct. App. 1983). The Court further held that the attempted transmutation of a habeas corpus proceeding into a civil rights action would not, even if effective, confer jurisdiction upon the Court of Appeal to approve the stipulation. The Court also stated that even if the Court of Appeal had jurisdiction, the Court would decline to review the stipulated judgment and consent decree in the absence of complete review of the proposal by the trial court.
Part of the settlement agreement required construction of a new main jail by approximately 1987. Thomas Lonergan was designated as a compliance officer to oversee performance of the agreement. In February 1987, the trial court issued a contempt order, holding the county and supervisors in contempt for violation of the parties' agreement to permit free communication between the complaince officer and county employees. The court also held county supervisors in contempt for their refusal to accelerate the construction of a single-cell facility, which would provide at least 96 single cells by December 1, 1987, or face a $1,000 fine and five-day jail sentence to be served by each supervisor.
On September 17, 1987, the Califonia Court of Appeals for the Sixth District (Judge P. J. Agliano) reversed the trial court's contempt findings. Wilson v. Superior Court
, 240 Cal. Rptr. 131 (Cal. Ct. App. 1987). The Court held that the contempt adjudication violated separation of powers and was void because the immediate construction of temporary facilities would be needlessly expensive and would interfere with the master plan for construction of the new jail. The Court noted that the new jail facilities would be completed by January 1988. The Court also found that the contempt order was an invalid delegation to the sheriff of judicial power to decide how many additional cells were needed and that the county supervisors had corrected the problems of allowing the compliance officer free and confidential access to county employees.
We do not have the docket in this state-court case, and have no further information. Tom Madison - 03/25/2006