SLO County Jail procedures deemed unconstitutional

May 20, 2015


California’s 3rd District Court of Appeal recently upheld a ruling barring a county jail from requiring glass partitions between inmates and lawyers, a more than 40 year practice of the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Department.

In 2013, following the lead of San Luis Obispo County, the Sheriff of Nevada County, California installed glass-partitioned interview rooms requiring in most cases that prisoners meeting with their attorneys communicate exclusively via a reportedly unmonitored telephone, with no ability to share and go over reports, documents, or other evidence together. In response, lawyers for several different prisoners sought orders from the Nevada County Superior Court to restore their “contact visits” with their attorneys.

Over the opposition of Nevada County’s sheriff and county counsel, the Superior Court ordered “that confidential attorney-client contact visits (which the court defined as visits in a meeting space without physical barriers between attorney and client) be made available at the jail absent circumstances justifying suspension of such visits in individual cases.”

The County of Nevada appealed the ruling in an attempt to restore these limits on attorney-client consultations. Joining Nevada County’s unsuccessful appeal were the California State Sheriffs Association of which SLO County Sheriff Ian Parkinson is a past president, the California Police Chiefs and the California Peace Officers Association.

Since the 1970s, San Luis Obispo County’s sheriffs have mandated this kind of separation of prisoners from their attorneys, citing safety and security concerns. San Luis Obispo criminal defense attorneys typically must obtain a court order before being permitted by the sheriff to engage in a “contact visit” where they can sit in an unmonitored room with their clients at the jail to interview, review documents and prepare for trial together.

The ruling was in part based on the U.S. and California Constitution’s rights for an accused to be represented by an attorney and on the U.S. and California Constitutions’ rights of all individuals to have “meaningful access to the courts.”

The third district held that “despite great deference to security judgment of those who operate penal institutions, ‘the courts cannot abdicate their responsibility to protect inmates’ rights to adequate contact with their attorneys and to disapprove of visitation requirements that place a chilling effect on attorney visitation, especially when the security risk in a given case is ephemeral.’” Examples of when partitions should be required were described by the justices as “extreme cases” such as an inmate who had attacked their attorney, or smuggled drugs or attempted an escape through an attorney.

Writing for a unanimous court, Justice Louis Mauro said that “inmates have a constitutional right to (A) confidentially confer with counsel, and (B) have contact visits with counsel as part of their right to meaningful access to the court. The county’s generalized concern in this case that safety will be improved if inmates are separated from their lawyers by partitions is not sufficient ….”

On May 14, the Third District Court of Appeal in Sacramento ordered publication of the opinion which, until that moment, affected only the Nevada County Jail. Realizing the importance of their opinion in “County of Nevada v. Superior Court,” a unanimous court ruled that its decision should be published in order to apply to all the county sheriffs and jails in California.

Stew Jenkins has practiced law in San Luis Obispo County since 1978. His recent civil rights cases include SLO Homeless Alliance v. City of San Luis Obispo (enjoined enforcement of “no sleeping in vehicles” ordinance against poor people), Torres v. Brennler (Anti-SLAPP motion throwing out law suit designed to impair press freedom), and Barta v. Secretary of State Debra Bowen (holding unconstitutional Elections Code statutes requiring a loyalty oath to join a political party committee). Jenkins’ practice includes municipal law, tax payer suits, estate planning and family law, and he was recently elected chair of the San Luis Obispo County Chapter of the ACLU.

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Dirk Anderson

I spent four days in Jail last October for an illegal camping ticket.

I was placed in the dorm. It was extremely crowded. Al Moriarty happened to have been in there also.

On my way to court, up against the wall while being shackled and handcuffed, and compliant, Irish Jailer was kicking at my feet (apparently preparing me for my court appearance). This cockroach ended his shift and was not there when I returned.

How many searches does one have to go through? Naked, bend over and cough, X-ray Machine damn.

I was 100 % Law Enforcement. Not any more America left me, I didn’t leave it. You can not tell me that I am not the target of some kind of profiling in the community. I have been physically shoved, City vehicles come right at me etc. etc. etc.

Last Holiday Season I might as well have been in some sort of Stasi Republic Downtown, what the hell was that?

I notice the Islamic Mosque down by the Police Station. I suspect they get treated better than I do.

This Culture and the American People disgust me.

Dirk Anderson

In addition, for all this searching this that and the other to keep drugs out of the place, it struck me as odd during my short stay (I go back won’t hurt my feelings) to notice during the shift of this jailor with the heavy Irish accent to see the “Bros” all of the sudden lined up to get their happy pills and what not- how ironic?

This Sherrif’s “grace” period is long since over.

I believe the Culture at it’s core is disseased, as evidenced by all this anonymous internet ferreting about, at least I fight. What goes around comes around.

Nothing special about the Courts, the Law, the Police…go impress the five year old’s, Go get with the Moslems, they can have you.


I was at a community meeting last week and the sheriff’s commander said the grant that paid for the boat, also pays for the fuel, maintenance and salaries for the crew. Sounds like a good deal for us. The same grant also puts an extra patrol car on the North Coast, which is great for the residents!

People may not like Sheriff Parkinson, but it is silly to criticize him for getting a grant that improve his department’s ability to protect us.

honest abe

uh… the “grant” comes from your federal taxes. waste is waste.

here’s a concept, eliminate the waste and lower our tax rates and let us keep more of what we earn.


The money for that boat came from the federal government in the form of a grant, which means if Parkinson did not apply for the money it would have went somewhere else. Either way taxpayers were going to be paying for it. You should be grateful you have a sheriff that takes advantages of these opportunities to keep your tax money in our county. Maybe the boat does nothing but if it saves one persons life, isn’t it worth it. Or would you rather the money and boat save someone’s life in Daytona beach.

If you want to be mad at someone be mad at Barack and the federal government. Those are the people “wasting” your tax paying dollars. Parkinson is just trying to make sure the money supports slo county as much as possible

Rich in MB

Are you smoking Crack?

I see the sheriff deputies launch the boat at the MB boat ramp and then play around all day with it….who do you think pays for them when they should be out on the street! We already have the USCG and PSL and MB each have their own harbor police…WTF do we need to be paying sheriff deputies to play on the water for?

This whole thing is classic Government cluster Fu#$ 101. They give you free money….you take it and then spend your own money on the free money.


You da man!


Will the attorneys be searched before meeting in person with their clients at the jail?

I know that everyone, including attorneys must go through screening at the courthouse.

If these “officers of the court” were to be trusted would the judges have ordered that they be subjected to the same security screenings as their clients who visit the courthouse?

I hope the sheriff requires the attorneys go through the same screening process at the jail as they do at court, otherwise you could have one of them inadvertantly bring a gun into the jail, like attorney Joseph Yanny did at the courthouse a few years ago.


Lot’s of assumptions being made. Is there any claims that LE listened into the conversations of the defense attorney and client? I certainly wish more people were concerned about the rights of the masses. By the way, Parkinson has been Sherrif for 4 years. The facility was built long before then and the current system in place. Is it possible that there are other priorities?


Other priorities, like spending $500,000 of taxpayers money on a speed boat to play with, that he said would save money even though the county was never charged for panga pickup in the past.