A Habeas Class Action

The Prison Law Office, appointed to represent a formerly pro per habeas petitioner who contended the parole board was late in hearing his case, decided to go for a brass ring by filing a class action habeas petition on behalf of all prisoners similarly situated. And they got it . . . at the trial level. Here”s the succinct summary from the opinion in In re Inez Tuto Lugo, case no. A114111 (1st Dist. July 21, 2008):

The proceeding giving rise to these consolidated appeals began simply enough with a habeas corpus petition filed by a prisoner who claimed his parole suitability hearing had not been conducted within the time specified in the Penal Code.  From that modest beginning, the proceeding transmogrified into something unprecedented under California law—a habeas class action on behalf of parole-eligible life prisoners in which the trial court has assumed a role as overseer of the Board of Parole Hearings (Board) on a range of matters far afield of the simple complaint that motivated the original petitioner to seek relief.

On appeal, the Board claims the trial court erred by improperly limiting the Board’s inherent discretion and requiring the Board to state “a significant change in circumstances” justifying a decision to deny parole for more than one year following a prior one-year parole denial. The Board further contends the trial court erred by requiring it to provide inmates with transcripts of their parole hearings within 30 days of the hearing date or face sanctions of $10 per day for each delayed transcript. Finally, the Board claims the trial court abused its discretion when it chose to multiply the fees awarded to class counsel by a factor of 1.5.

The court holds that the order requiring the board not to deny further parole hearings for more than a year absent exceptional circumstances is an unlawful restriction on the Board’s discretion.  It reverses the order requiring the Board to provide transcripts because the question was never properly before the trial court.

I have to admire the tactic of asserting the first-ever habeas class action in California, even though it didn’t work out in the end . . . for the class members, anyway.  The fee award is affirmed.

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