Thursday, April 9, 2020
Court of Appeal:
Panel Says Orange County Superior Court Judge, Acting in Role of Magistrate, Had No Statutory Authority to Make Court-Wide Ruling Barring Sheriff Department’s Policy on Restraints in Courthouse Holding Tanks
By a MetNews Staff Writer
An Orange Superior Court judge, acting on a pre-trial motion by an in-custody defendant that he not be shackled while in a court holding facility, had no authority to make a court-wide ruling that no accused be placed in physical restraints in such a facility without a showing by the District Attorney’s Office of a particularized need, Div. One of the Fourth District Court of Appeal held yesterday.
The panel granted a petition of mandate sought by the County of Orange challenging the Nov. 18 order by Judge Kathleen E. Roberts. It acted notwithstanding that the defendant who made the no-restraints motion, real party Rogelio Garcia Jr., had already pled guilty, explaining:
“Because…dismissing the petition as moot would leave respondent court’s ruling in place, we exercise our discretion and consider petitioner’s request for extraordinary relief in the first instance.”
Orange County filed its writ petition on Nov. 21, noting that more than 150 motions had been filed since October contesting the Sheriff’s Department “blanket shackling” policy. The appeals court issued an immediate stay of Roberts’s order.
In acting on Garcia’s motion, the Fourth District’s “By the Court” opinion says, Roberts was acting in the capacity of a magistrate. It cites a 2007 Court of Appeal decision which, in turn relies upon the 1897 decision by the California Supreme Court in People v. Cohen, which sets forth:
“A superior judge, when sitting as a magistrate, possesses no other or greater powers than are possessed by any other officer exercising the functions of a magistrate. The justices of this court, judges of the superior courts, justices of the peace, and police magistrates in cities and towns, are each and all by the statute made magistrates.”
The high court opinion continues:
“The office is purely a statutory one, and the powers and duties of the functionary are solely those given by the statute….”
Yesterday’s opinion—signed by Acting Presiding Justice Raymond Ikola and Justices David A. Thompson and Thomas Goethals—declares:
“Contrary to the limited statutory authority conveyed to a magistrate, respondent court not only granted Mr. Garcia’s motion and dictated the circumstances under which he could be restrained by the sheriff’s department at the courthouse, but on an oral motion by the defense, respondent court expanded its ruling beyond the relief that Mr. Garcia sought in the original pleadings to the entire county.
“However, nowhere in the Penal Code is a magistrate authorized to make a ruling in a defendant’s criminal case that dictates the manner in which a law enforcement agency is allowed to transport or restrain a defendant outside of the courtroom. Nor does the Penal Code authorize a magistrate to determine the manner of restraint of a defendant whose case is not before the court. And nowhere in the Penal Code is a magistrate authorized to make a ruling in a defendant’s criminal case that dictates the manner in which all current and future in-custody defendants are transported from the jail to the courthouse, or the manner in which all current and future in-custody defendants are restrained in the courthouse holding cells.”
Memorandum of Understanding
A 2015 memorandum of understanding between the Superior Court and the county recited that, pursuant to a Government Code provision, “the sheriff is responsible for the necessary level of court security services” and spelled out: “Such services shall include the following: maintaining the custody and security of defendants in criminal cases while they are in court holding facilities.”
The Court of Appeal observed:
“The Penal Code also does not authorize a magistrate to make a ruling in a defendant’s criminal case that impacts or undermines the memorandum of understanding between the superior court and the sheriff under section 69926 of the Government Code, and nowhere in the Penal Code is a judicial officer authorized to issue a county-wide decree of any kind while sitting as a magistrate in a defendant’s criminal case.”
The opinion points out that “[a]lthough a magistrate’s power is limited, counsel’s in-custody pretrial defendants are not without a remedy,” citing three code sections:
Government Code §27706(g) provides: “Upon the order of the court or upon the request of the person involved, the public defender may represent any person who is not financially able to employ counsel in a proceeding of any nature relating to the nature or conditions of detention, of other restrictions prior to adjudication, of treatment, or of punishment resulting from criminal or juvenile proceedings.”
Civil Code §3420 says: “Preventive relief is granted by injunction, provisional or final.”
Code of Civil Procedure §526 authorizes injunctions for such purposes as preventing “great or irreparable injury” “some act in violation of the rights” of a party.
The case is County of Orange v. Superior Court, G058596.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has no blanket shackling policy.
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