State Supreme Court declines to review Nevada County jail access case
A two-year legal battle, over what constitutes a contact visit between jail inmates and their attorneys, appears to have come to an end.
The California Supreme Court last week denied a petition by Nevada County to overturn an earlier appellate court ruling that attorneys be allowed to visit their jailed clients at Wayne Brown Correctional Facility without having to meet in a room with a glass barrier between them.
The Third District Court of Appeals had issued its ruling in April, and the county filed a petition for review in June.
The Sheriff’s Office and County Counsel have been working with the Public Defender’s office to provide “nonbarrier contact visits,” fine-tuning the process, said Undersheriff Joe Salivar.
“As requests come up, we do our best to accommodate them,” he said. “So far, I think it’s been working well.”
While details are still being ironed out, at present there are two spaces available at the jail and an area in court holding at the county courthouse, Salivar said.
Assistant Public Defender Keri Klein, who has been key in the negotiations, was not available to comment Tuesday.
In early 2013, the county jail began limiting attorney-client visits to a room where they are separated by a glass partition, in what one local judge called a “radical deviation” from past practice.
Five local criminal defense attorneys then filed a motion to force the Sheriff’s Office to allow contact visits at Wayne Brown Correctional Facility.
The attorneys contended the jail was violating a basic Sixth Amendment right — the right to counsel. But the Sheriff’s Office and its jail staff argued the restriction was allowed due to legitimate security issues with a significant increase in prisoners due to realignment and, at the same time, a decrease in its budget.
Nevada County Superior Court Judge Thomas Anderson issued a ruling Aug. 1, 2013, that affirmed the court’s jurisdiction over the issue and upheld inmates’ rights to contact visits. Anderson ruled that while deference should be given to the jail’s operational policies, the court has jurisdiction when the operation of the jail impacts a constitutional or statutory right.
A detainee has the right to meet with counsel in a barrier-free room unless there is a specific justification for a limitation, Anderson wrote, adding that in the six cases before him, the evidence presented supported the importance of “unfettered” contact.
Anderson ordered that contact visits be made available absent any specific circumstances, but he stopped short of an edict, refusing to direct the jail on how to accommodate the contact visits.
That ruling was on hold for nearly 18 months after the Third District Court of Appeals granted a stay order.
In February of this year, the appellate court heard arguments and then ruled against the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office in April, lifting its stay order.
In the ruling, the appellate justices noted that Anderson did not abuse his discretion in ordering that contact visits be made available at the jail, absent circumstances justifying the suspension of such visits in individual cases.
The ruling stated that while there was a legitimate concern for safety and security at the jail, there also was evidence that reasonable measures — including additional locks, cameras and training — are available to address those concerns.
The justices wrote that the one alternative available — contact visits at the courthouse — was not optimal, and that there was no evidence that the cost of contact visits are so extraordinary as to justify their suspension.
“The jail restriction is an exaggerated response” to security concerns, the justices wrote, noting that contact visits had been allowed at the jail for some 20 years before the change in 2013.
In May, the appellate court granted a request to publish its opinion, meaning it can be used as a legal precedent statewide. The county’s attorneys on Friday filed a request to depublish the opinion, but seems unlikely in the wake of the Supreme Court decision.
To contact City Editor Liz Kellar, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4229.
Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.