Thursday, August 20, 2015
Ruling Against Barriers Between Lawyers and Inmates Left Standing by California Supreme Court
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A Court of Appeal ruling affirming the right of criminal defense lawyers to meet with jailed clients in rooms without glass partitions between them, absent individualized security concerns, remains citable as precedent.
The state Supreme Court, at its weekly conference in San Francisco yesterday, unanimously denied Nevada County’s request to depublish County of Nevada v. Superior Court (Siegfried) 236 Cal. App. 4th 1001. The county did not ask the high court to review the April 23 ruling.
In the April 23 ruling, the Court of Appeal upheld an order by a Nevada Superior Court judge requiring jail officials to restore the prior, general policy of allowing attorneys to meet with the clients without barriers between them. The county changed the policy in 2013, saying that as a result of having more inmates and fewer employees, the jail could no longer handle its volume of attorney-client “contact visits.”
Evidence presented at a hearing on a writ petition brought by inmates showed that attorneys and clients were forced to meet in a glass-partitioned visitors’ room, where they could only communicate via a telephone hookup or by speaking loud enough to be heard through an opening similar to a mail slot. Lawyers complained that they had to speak loudly, compromising confidentiality, even when using the telephone.
The policy permitted exceptions, but the evidence showed that only about one exception per week had been granted, solely in cases where attorneys needed to review recordings or voluminous documents with the clients, even though teachers and ministers were allowed meet with inmates in an open, multipurpose room located near the visiting area.
Otherwise, documents had to be slipped through the slot.
The jail commander said he tested the sound on the attorney side of the barrier, and did not believe that conversations could be overheard. There was no soundproofing on the inmate side, he said, because whatever material they used would likely be stolen or vandalized.
Inmate attorneys presented testimony by a psychologist regarding the impact of the barrier on communication and confidentiality, and a former jail commander testified that the previous policy had worked well. There was also undisputed evidence that the vast majority of attorney-client jail visits in California and elsewhere are conducted in rooms without partitions.
After the trial judge granted the inmates’ consolidated motions challenging the policy, the county sought a writ of mandate or prohibition from the Court of Appeal, which granted a stay. But after briefing by the parties and their amici—law enforcement groups supporting the county and defense attorney groups backing the inmates—the court denied the writ and dissolved the stay.
Justice Louis Mauro expressed sympathy for the county’s concerns, but said it had “exaggerated” its response.
He noted that the county failed to cite any justification based on the actual effects of the prior policy; that the county could, as an alternative, bring inmates to the nearby courthouse for attorney visits, although the justice acknowledged this was “not optimal” given the logistics of transport and the limited facilities available; that there was no evidence the costs of providing the visits would be extraordinary; and that the county’s security concerns could be addressed with additional locks, cameras, and training.
Copyright 2015, Metropolitan News Company