On May 22, 1997, ten individuals who were allegedly over-detained in the Los Angeles County jail brought a class action lawsuit in the Los Angeles County Superior Court against the County, the Sheriff and various individual supervisors charged with jail management. As the lawsuit alleged both federal and state law violations, the defendants removed the case to the federal court - the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. Plaintiffs alleged that pursuant to jail policy, they were kept in custody anywhere from 36 hours to as long as five days after they had been ordered released. Plaintiffs sought damages, injunctive relief and class certification for a class of persons routinely over-detained in the Los Angeles County jail.
This case, styled Williams v. Block, was one of a group of cases filed in federal and state courts in California beginning in 1997 that challenged various alleged policies and/or practices of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department (LASD) and the operation of its jail, which included: 1) "overdetentions" (i.e., persons not released from custody from the Los Angeles County jails within a reasonable period of time after they became entitled to release); 2) strip and/or visual body cavity searches of persons who had been returned to jail from court to be processed for release; and 3) wrong warrant arrests and detentions (persons arrested on a warrant that, in fact, was for another person, and held for an unreasonable period of time before being released).
The alleged "overdetentions" in Williams v. Block stemmed from the LASD's use of the Automated Justice Information System ("AJIS"), a computerized law enforcement database used to confirm that the prisoner had no outstanding warrants. It was LASD policy that, before it would run a computer check on AJIS, all of the wants and holds that arrived on the day a prisoner was scheduled for release first had to be put into the database. Due to the high volume of wants and holds received daily, the computer inputting process took days to complete, resulting in an administrative backlog that caused prisoners to be overdetained. The Williams plaintiffs alleged that this policy caused a deprivation of liberty without due process of law, in violation of the Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments and California state law.
In addition to Williams, other cases that were pending in the Central District of California, alleging some form of overdetention included: Streit v.County of Los Angeles, C.D. Cal. No. CV 98-9575WJR (proposed class of those overdetained under the County's unconstitutional detention policy and practice); Canizales v. Block, C.D. Cal. No. CV 98-2475 WJR (proposed class of those ordered released on their own recognizance, but over-detained under the County's unconstitutional detention policy and practice); Shields v. County of Los Angeles, C.D. Cal. No. 98-9695 WJR (proposed class of those acquitted at trial, but over-detained under the County's unconstitutional detention policy and practice; Fairley v. Block, C.D. Cal. No. CV 98-3187 CAS (people ordered released because they are the wrong person); Patchen v. County of Los Angeles, C.D. Cal. No. CV-98-9574 WJR (people detained after the District Attorney's Office rejected filing criminal charges against them); Cleaves v. County of Los Angeles, C. D. Cal. No. 98-9573 WJR (people sentenced to time served and not released); and Gladney v. County of Los Angeles, C.D. Cal. No. CV 99-00586 WJR (court dismisses charges).
In the Williams case, defendants responded to plaintiffs' complaint and subsequent amended complaints by moving to dismiss the case on various grounds. The District Court (Judge William J. Rea) granted in part and denied in part the defendants' motion to dismiss on October 14, 1997. Judge Rea denied plaintiffs' motion for class certification on December 5, 1997. Plaintiffs appealed.
While plaintiffs' appeal was pending on the class certification issue, the parties engaged in extensive discovery, which generated various discovery disputes. Defendants made offers of judgment to the named plaintiffs, many of which were accepted in April 1998. The terms of the offers were not apparent from the PACER docket.
Defendants moved for summary judgment on the claims of the remaining plaintiffs. The Court granted summary judgment to defendants on one of plaintiffs' state law claims and as to plaintiffs' Thirteenth Amendment claim (that inmates were subjected to involuntary servitude by way of forced labor). In all other respects, defendants' motion was denied. Williams v. Block, 1999 WL 33542996 (C.D.Cal. Aug 11, 1999). Defendants appealed, but the Ninth Circuit affirmed in a consolidated appeal. See Streit v. County of Los Angeles, 236 F.3d 552 (9th Cir. 2001).
On May 03, 2000, the Ninth Circuit reversed Judge Rea's denial of plaintiffs' motion for class certification and remanded the case so that the Court could revisit the issue. Williams v. Block, 217 F.3d 848 (9th Cir. 2000). On remand, plaintiffs refiled their motion for class certification. The Court began an evidentiary hearing on class certification on October 30, 2000, but the hearing was continued for additional testimony. The parties requested a series of further continuances while they pursued settlement negotiations.
The case was transferred to Magistrate Judge Carla M. Woehrle for further proceedings. Judge Woehrle consolidated the Williams case with other similar cases pending before the Court. Eventually, a global settlement was brokered that resolved some 14 pending cases, involving three classes of plaintiffs: 1) overdetentions; 2) strip and/or visual body cavity searches; and 3) wrong warrant arrests by the LASD. The settlement consisted of injunctive relief and a substantial monetary payment. The injunctive component was resolved and approved in the state court case, Riley v. the County of Los Angeles. [See JC-CA-56].
The monetary component was approved by Judge Woehrle on 11/27/2002, following a fairness hearing. Defendants agreed to pay an aggregate amount of $27 million. Of that sum, $13,444,809.93 was distributed to class members, after submission of claims, based on a point system whereby each strip search received 3 points (1-5 points depending on length of over-detention and 2 points for wrongful warrant detention). Each point was worth $142.07, or $426.21 for each strip search. The maximum award, regardless of the number of strip searches or the length of over-detention, was $5,000. Men and women shared the settlement equally. A total incentive bonus of $745,750 was shared by 66 named plaintiffs (each received an amount ranging from $2,000 to $31,000).
Total fees, costs and expenses amounted to 39.12% of the $27 million settlement. That amount consisted of attorneys' fees in the amount of $9.684 million, $5.5 million of which was paid for work on the injunctive relief portion. $34,743 was allocated for litigation costs and $845,380.07 for claims administration.
Of the 400,000 potential class members, 36,626 claims were approved, which constituted a participation rate of 9.15%.Dan Dalton - 01/20/2008