A Sacramento County Superior Court Judge has ruled this morning that the attempt by the Schwarzenegger Administration to move prisoners out of California by declaring a “state of emergency” is illegal.
The judge stayed her order so that it can be appealed, and the Governor’s office has vowed to do so. However, this ruling does not bode well for the Governor’s planned actions as the judge enjoined him and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation on two separate grounds and found a violation of the California Emergency Services Act and the civil service provisions of the California Constitution. In order to prevail on appeal, the Governor must overturn both of these findings.
In a four page ruling in the case of California Correctional Peace Officers v. Schwarzenegger, Judge Gail Ohanesian made the following statements:
Prison overcrowding in California is a crisis creating conditions of extreme peril to the safety of persons and property within the state, which are or likely will be beyond the control of any single county or city in California. Based on these circumstances, the Governor has declared a “state of emergency” under Government Code section 8558. …This is not the type of circumstance generally covered by the California Emergency Services Act. …The intent of the Emergency Services Act is not to give the Governor extraordinary powers to act without legislative approval in matters such as this that are ordinarily and entirely within the control of state government. ..
Even if the Proclamation of Emergency were to be found valid, petitions claim that the contracts to send some state prisoners to out of state private facilities are illegal because they violate the civil service principles found in the California Constitution, Article VII. The state is not allowed to contact out for services that are usually done by civil service employees. The state can contract privately only if, because of the nature of the work, civil servants are unable to perform the work adequately and competently.
Petitioners include the California Correctional Peace Officers and the state union, SEIU. Respondents include the Governor and the California Department of Corrections (CDCR).
The judge did not find an exception to the civil service requirements of the California Constitution in the California Government Code because the one cited by the Attorney General who represents the Governor and CDCR, Government Code section 19130 requires the urgency did not arise out of the inability to hire more correctional officers but rather stemmed from a lack of prison facilities. The judge noted that personnel shortages “were not listed as a reason for the state of emergency and the contracts in question.”
Governor Schwarzenegger has called the judge’s decision “a threat to public safety,” but that will not alter the legal underpinnings of this ruling.
For more information on this breaking story, the following articles will provide further details outside of the four corners of the decision itself: