State Must Disclose Plan to End Court Oversight of Prisons

Gov. Jerry Brown failed to convince a federal appeals court an unfair process had been created by the courts for the state to seek an end of federal court oversight of the state’s overcrowded prison system.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 vote Wednesday, did not rule on whether federal court oversight should end, but merely on objections by the state to how the process of ending oversight is conducted.

“We deal with still another phase of litigation aimed at curing egregious constitutional violations in the operation of the California prison system,” wrote Judge Mary Schroeder.

California’s 33 prisons have been operating under receivership since 2006.  A specially appointed three-judge panel has been overseeing the state’s compliance with orders to reduce overcrowding in order to improve the quality of health care for inmates.

Under terms of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, states may seek an end to prison litigation by requesting to terminate an injunction after two years and the injunction would be subject to an automatic stay of the court took more than 30 days to decide the request.

So the three-judge panel asked the governor in 2013 when the state intended to file the motion to terminate the injunction.

California, anxious to end the entire litigation, responded in February 2013 that it would file within a few months.

He judges said the  prisoners’ lawyers would need time to respond and to conduct interviews so it ordered the state to disclose its expert witnesses and their reports at least 120 days prior to filing the motion to terminate.

All this to allow the court to respond within the 30-day deadline to avoid the state winning a stay by default.

But California objected to the order of advance release of witnesses, saying it violated the PLRA.

Schroeder said the district court’s order “is a sensible scheduling order designed to provide the court and plaintiffs with adequate notice of the evidence the state intends to rely upon in a motion to terminate.”

The majority upheld the order.

In dissent, Judge Jay Bybee said the district court cannot avoid the PLRA’s strict timetable by requiring the state to give 120 days notice before it files a motion to terminate.

Case:  Plata v. Brown, No. 13-15466


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