Ninth Circuit Asked to Revive Class Actions Against Ex-LA Sheriff

Los Angeles County Jail (Los Angeles Sheriffs Department)

LOS ANGELES (CN) — Former inmates of Los Angeles County jails asked the Ninth Circuit to revive civil rights class actions alleging that former Sheriff Leroy Baca’s jailers forced them to sleep on the floor.

The Ninth Circuit on Wednesday heard multiple cases related to the allegations. The 2007 lawsuits Baeza v. Baca and Corral v. Baca alleged the same facts: that jailers denied then bunk beds. All complaints sought damages for deprivation of civil rights.

Arguing for the inmates, Marion Yagman said the Ninth Circuit should reverse Los Angeles Federal Court’s dismissal of the cases, in part because the court found the plaintiffs had taken too long to take the cases to trial.

U.S. District Judge Dean Pregerson had ruled that the forced floor-sleeping was unconstitutional, but the plaintiffs never tested their damages claims before jurors.

In a brief to the Ninth Circuit, Yagman said it was unfair for the court to blame the plaintiffs for the delay in reaching trial.

“The only delay attributable to plaintiffs’ counsel is excusable,” Yagman wrote in the April 2016 brief. “Plaintiffs’ counsel delayed from December 2012 to January 2014 because of a hip ailment and hip replacement.”

In his answering brief, the county’s attorney Justin Clark, of Venice Beach, said it was the plaintiffs’ burden to advance the case to trial, not the court or the county, as Yagman argued.

Clark wrote that while the attorney’s illness was unfortunate, it did not create “extraordinary circumstances” that would have prevented the plaintiffs from proceeding.

“Delay attributable to counsel for any reason is less likely to prompt relief, because it does not explain the failure to prosecute by plaintiffs themselves,” Clark wrote.

At a Wednesday morning hearing in the Richard H. Chambers U.S. Court of Appeals in Pasadena, Clark argued that though Yagman was suffering health issues, it had not stopped her from litigating a related case at the same time.

“I’m sensitive to the concept of there being a disability that would prevent an attorney from having the ability to work on a particular case,” Clark said. “But when you make that representation and then at the same time you’re actively litigating another case, it’s a little hard to swallow.”

Yagman said in rebuttal that she had undergone hip replacement surgery and was suffering a lot of pain and did not recall filing documents in the related case.

“It would have been very limited, because I was taking pain medications, prior to having the surgery and afterward, for quite a long time. I don’t think I would have been doing a lot of legal work,” Yagman said.

The panel asked Yagman why her partner at the firm did not take over the case while she recovered.

“I don’t think his knowledge of the case at the point would have enabled him to. So I just don’t think it was a reasonable thing to have happened. I ultimately would have had to have prepared all of the documents,” Yagman said. “It couldn’t have gone forward in the condition I was in.”

Yagman and Clark also argued S. Thomas v. Leroy Baca, which alleged that officials denied an inmate mental health treatment for 23 days, and another class action related to sleeping on jailhouse floors, S. Thomas v. County of Los Angeles.

Baca was sentenced Baca to 3 years in federal prison this year for obstructing an FBI investigation of jailhouse abuses.

Ninth Circuit Judges Kermit Lipez, Carlos Bea and Andrew Hurwitz on Wednesday did not indicate when they would rule.

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