On May 26, 2004, a prisoner at San Quentin State Prison in California filed this habeas corpus petition under state law in the Marin County Superior Court. The petitioner claimed that after a denial of parole on February 25, 2003, the California Board of Parole Hearings (BPH) failed to conduct a subsequent parole hearing within a year, thereby violating his due process rights and rights under Cal. Penal Code § 3041.5(b)(2). After reviewing the petition, Superior Court Judge Verna Adams issued an order to show cause, directed the BPH to file a return, and appointed the Prison Law Office to represent the plaintiff.
In response to the Judge Adams' request, the government claimed that this petition should be dismissed as moot because the petitioner's next parole hearing was already scheduled. The petitioner filed a reply claiming that because the parole hearing had not yet occurred, the issue was not moot. In addition, the petitioner moved for class certification on behalf of him and all similarly situated life prisoners who have been denied timely parole hearings. On November 29, 2004, Judge Adams certified a plaintiff class in this case, including all prisoners serving indeterminate terms of life with the possibility of parole who have not received timely parole hearings within the time required by California Penal Code §§ 3041 and 3041.5. A habeas class action of this kind was unprecedented under California law.
On February 15, 2006, Judge Adams issued an order granting the petitioners' application for writ of habeas corpus, holding that they had indeed been denied their parole hearings in violation of state law. Judge Adams ordered the BPH to comply with the law mandating annual parole hearings. On March 23, 2006, the parties filed stipulated procedures and disputed issues with the court, which included a remedial plan agreed upon by all parties to the lawsuit that would reduce the parole hearing backlog and bring the BPH in compliance with state law.
Among the disputed issues was regarding multi-year denials of parole. According to § 3041.5(b)(2), if a prisoner is issued a multi-year denial, the next parole hearing may not be for another two to five years. The petitioners argued that the BPH was using multi-year denials in order to reduce the parole hearing backlog. The BPH claimed there was no evidence of this, and that the BPH should have discretion in issuing multi-year denials.
On April 14, 2006, the petitioners moved for attorneys' fees in the amount of $58,460, and also argued that these fees should be multiplied by at least 1.5 in accordance with Serrano v. Priest
, 20 Cal. 3d 25 (1977). The BPH did not contest the petitioners' measure of reasonable fees, but argued that no multiplier was justified.
On May 5, 2006, Judge Adams ruled on the issues of multi-year denials as well as attorneys' fees. Judge Adams ordered the BPH "not to deny further parole consideration for more than one year in the case of prisoners who have formerly been denied for one year, in the absence of a significant change in circumstances, which must be stated on the record." Judge Adams also held that an attorneys' fees multiplier of 1.5 was appropriate, which in addition to costs totaled $90,203.72. BPH appealed these findings of June 5, 2006 to the First District Court of Appeal. (In this order, Judge Adams also appointed a new class representative, as the original petitioner had passed away since the commencement of the action.) The Court of Appeal granted a writ of supersedeas staying Judge Adams' order to cease multi-year parole denials and the attorneys' fee multiplier, pending appeal.
Throughout 2006, the parties provided status updates to the court regarding the progress of clearing the parole hearing backlog. In a status report filed November 9, 2006, the petitioners claimed BPH was not providing parole hearing transcripts within 30 days, which they argued was in violation of Penal Code § 3042(b). BPH argued that this was beyond the scope of this litigation, and even so, In re Bode
, 74 Cal. App. 4th 1002 (2008) held that there was no 30-day deadline. Judge Adams held a hearing regarding the transcript issue on June 15, 2007. During the hearing, Judge Adams indicated she believed In re Bode was wrongly decided, and ordered that a sanction of $10 per day would be imposed on the BPH for every day beyond the 30-day deadline. Judge Adams also ordered that the backlog of parole hearing transcripts be cleared by June 15, 2007. BPH appealed, and the Court of Appeal granted a writ of supersedeas staying Judge Adams' order, pending appeal.
On July 21, 2008, the Court of Appeals issued an opinion reversing Judge Adams' orders regarding multi-year parole denials and the 30-day deadline for parole hearing transcripts. Presiding Justice William McGuiness held that Judge Adams' order regarding multi-year parole denials violated the separation of powers doctrine and impaired the BPH's discretion to decide parole matters. Justice McGuiness also held that the parole hearing transcript issue was beyond the scope of the original habeas petition and thus this action. However, the Court of Appeals did uphold Judge Adams' application of the 1.5 multiplier for attorneys' fees. As of this opinion, we have no further information on the proceedings in this case.Kristen Sagar - 08/24/2007
John He - 11/13/2015