Thursday, July 20, 2006

Escamilla v. California Dept. of Corrections (Cal. Ct. App. - July 19, 2006)

Yes! Yes! Yes! Please spend my taxes this way, California Attorney General's Office! This is precisely why we all work so hard and yet are totally enthused about giving the government its fair share. I couldn't be more proud of the efficient, essential manner in which my appointed representatives litigated this case. Right on!

What happens, you might ask? Well, Carlos Escamilla is an inmate at the Calipatria State Prison. He's just bought $70 worth of stuff at the prison canteen and is in the exercise yard waiting to be returned to his cell when a riot breaks out in the yard. After the riot ends, Escamilla and his stuff are escorted by a correctional officer to an administrative segretation unit, at which point another officer informs Escamilla that he's going to the hole. Escamilla says "Okay, but can you put the stuff I'm wearing -- my Levis jeans, Reebok shoes, Nike sweatshirt, and Seiko watch -- with the stuff I just bought at the canteen." To which the officer responds: "No! That goes to the trash."

So Escamilla spends some time in the hole (in his boxers), and when he's released, he asks for his stuff back. But the prison can't find it. Presumably, it was either stolen or -- consistent with the officer's statement -- thrown in the trash. So he files a plethora of different administrative requests for the stuff, asking for either the return of the stuff that was taken from him or its value, $255. But the prison repeatedly tells him to go to hell. So he's forced to sue; again, asking for either the return of his stuff or its value.

The trial court, after a fair piece of litigation -- and a defense (at taxpayer expense) by the state -- orders the prison to give Escamilla $225. Seems reasonable to me. After all, they took and lost his property. Seems to me they should give it back. Plus, why the state elects to spend what is undoubtedly many, many thousands of dollars in defense- and judiciary-related time and salaries to defend a meritorious $255 lawsuit isn't easily apparent to me. But so be it.

But here's where it gets really good. The Attorney General appeals. Brilliant! And asserts a plethora of meritless arguments therein, primarily (1) Escamilla's alleged failure to exhaust administrative remedies, notwithstanding both contrary precedent and Escamilla's numerous administrative filings, and (2) alleged insufficiency of the evidence to support the $225 award, an argument that's simply absurd given the factual findings and deference to the trial court.

Regardless, let's see what we're spending just on the appeal of this $255 award. We've got the salaries of the various counsel in the Attorney General's office, who are writing briefs, supervising the appeal, and doing the oral argument. We've got the salaries of the three justices on the Court of Appeal, who are compelled to read the briefs, decide the appeal, and who end up writing a 27-page opinion. We've got the salaries of the support staffs at all of the various offices. And we've also got the salaries of the counsel for Escamilla who's appointed to represent him in the appeal. All over a meritorious award of a piddly $255!

Superb. Just what I want to see. That's definitely how I'd spend the money if it were mine. Glad to see such wise decisionmaking by our appointed officials. Simply excellent.

James Humes is the Chief Assistant AG on the brief, Francis Grudner is the Senior Assistant AG, and Heather Bushman (a Loyola Law graduate who forgot to pay her bar dues back in 1999) and Lora Martin (a Thomas Jefferson graduate with the same last name as, but unrelated to, yours truly) are the Deputy AGs.

I don't blame Heather and Lora, who are the grunts and likely don't have the ultimate say over whether to file the appeal. But I definitely blame their bosses. I haven't seen a more frivolous waste of taxpayer money by the AG's office in a while. Really impressive.