As the city of Susanville’s lawsuit against the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation et al makes its way through the legal system, readers following the case have seen more twists and turns than those in some Agatha Christie novel. And now there’s a new wrinkle.
Dan Newton, Susanville’s city administrator, filed a declaration Tuesday, Aug. 16 providing some new information regarding reports that a high-ranking official from CDCR said she participated in writing AB200, the budget trailer bill that changed the law underlying this case.
During an Aug. 2 proceeding in Lassen Superior Court, city of Susanville attorney Scott McLaren reported the city has heard high-ranking prison officials participated in writing AB 200, but the city has been unable to substantiate those allegations. The judge reminded McLaren the court does not deal in suspicions.
A state attorney responded CDCR was not responsible for the change in the law — that was done by the legislature — but Moody countered CDCR and the state legislature are both part of the state government.
According to the discussion at that proceeding, if someone from CDCR actually was involved in writing AB 200, they may be in violation of the preliminary injunction issued by Lassen County Superior Court Judge Mark Nareau ordering that CDCR take no further action to close the prison until the legal issues are resolved in court.
Newton’s declaration, filed in support a brief filed by the city, sheds new light on the issue. Newton’s declaration “is based on my own personal knowledge except as to those matters stated upon information and belief, and as to those matters, I believe them to be true. If called as a witness to testify to the matters asserted herein, I would do so completely.”
According to Newton’s declaration, a person who holds a “management position within CDCR who asked that I not disclose their name for fear of retaliation,” told him he had attended a CDCR budget meeting titled “Budget Highlights” at 1:30 p.m. July 1 which included “management staff at CDCR prison facilities and various CDCR staff.”
Those at the meeting discussed AB 200, including Sara Larson, CDCR’s assistant secretary for legislative affairs. At that meeting, Larson allegedly said “she was directly involved with the drafting of the language in AB 200 that pertains to the closure of CCC.”
The next court proceeding will be 9 a.m. Friday, Aug. 26. The court is expected to take up the separation of powers issues that arise from US v. Klein, a Civil War era US Supreme Court case from 1871.
According to comments by visiting Lassen County Superior Court Judge Robert F. Moody at the Aug. 2 proceeding, the 1871 case raises “separation of powers” questions and perhaps even constitutional issues that must be addressed before the case can move forward. He called the issues this old case raises “a thicket of complexity.”
Moody agreed if the state wins the separation of powers debate, “the new statute is fully operative,” and he acknowledged if this separation of powers issue can be resolved in the state’s favor, “that ends this case.” But he also added his concern AB 200’s elimination of the requirements of a California Environmental Quality Act review of the CCC closure “may be unconstitutional.”