Early yesterday morning when I heard Judge Moody had ruled against the city of Susanville in its lawsuit against the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, I blurted out a four-letter word I won’t repeat here. But I wasn’t surprised. I saw that shot coming the moment I read the city’s response to the judge’s Aug. 26 request they tell him what rights the city had been denied as a result of AB 200. I feared the city’s attorneys had composed a brief they thought the judge wanted to read, but in doing so they may have failed to complete the assignment.
I read Moody’s ruling, and I think I understand it about as well as any lay person might. What I can’t understand is how a judge can express his obvious disdain for and awareness of the unfair result of his ruling and then issue it anyway. I mean, the judge is the only person in a courtroom who can correct a legal wrong. Sure, I get the rule of law, the legal precedent mumbo jumbo legalese and all that, but the court must always stand for due process in the first instance. If you don’t have that bedrock guiding principle in court, you have nothing.
It’s not unusual to expect a judge to right a wrong. Whether you agree or disagree with their decision, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the constitutionally protected law of the land, because the majority of the court’s justices thought it was wrong. That’s what judges do when they do when they see a wrong. They set it right. Happens all the time. Frankly, I thought the judge in this case understood that better than anyone else in his courtroom, and that perception very well could be what may have led the city’s attorneys astray.
Really, this is such a simple case. The city of Susanville has been battling the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation et al seeking a writ of mandate from the court to simply require the state to follow its own rules, rules the legislature itself created to describe and direct the process to be followed in determining which prisons to close. The California Correctional Center does not meet those criteria. As the state’s attorneys general repeatedly tried to worm around those Penal Code sections and their precise direction, the judge himself finally responded it didn’t appear to him the state had complied with any of its legal responsibilities. Despite being represented by a legion of attorneys from San Diego to Sacramento and seemingly everywhere in between, the state’s lawyers couldn’t even hammer much of a dent into the essential elements of the city’s case. The city clearly had the law on its side.
Ah, but then came a last-minute party line vote, the swipe of the governor’s pen and we got AB 200, a bill that repealed those Penal Code sections upon which the city of Susanville’s case relied regarding the procedure for determining which prisons to close. It also removed the requirement of a CEQA review when a prison is slated for closure. And CDCR allegedly helped write it. The court’s focus seemed to shift in that direction — what do we do about AB 200?
I’m not a lawyer, and so I recognize my analysis could be completely off point, but it seems silly to even have to say it out loud — the constitutions of both the nation and the state grant us the right to petition our government for a redress of grievances. That’s the city’s original issue — petitioning the court for relief because state failed to obey the law. That relief is obtained through due process. Somehow that original purpose got swept away in all the legal bantering, pleadings, posturing and rulings in this case, especially in the last two months or so. It seems to me, if you believe in the constitutionally guaranteed right to hold the government accountable and if you believe due process guarantees that right, then this isn’t a very hard case at all. Those are the rights we lost. We lost nothing but everything.
Let’s be real for a second. The court decisions that make it OK for the legislature to change the law to remove the due process of a legal right guaranteed by both the state and federal constitutions are obviously completely wrong and unfair and should be overturned immediately. When making this infuriating ruling, the judge recognized that profound wrongness, but then he failed his most basic judicial responsibility to stand up and preserve our constitutional rights, preserve our due process rights and at the same time set this great wrong right for everyone in the Golden State, present and future. Instead, the judge ruled laws he believes are wrong trump due process and constitutional rights. Now he can hold up his hands and say ‘blame the legislature for this injustice’ if it makes him feel better, but that’s just judicial denial. He alone owns his ruling. The court is the check and balance against legislative excess. It has the power to rule legislative acts are unconstitutional.
I take great solace in my prayer that the stench his ruling leaves behind will linger in his nostrils with every breath he takes.