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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Hey, this affects me and every other decent citizen of the United States


Thanks for playing though.


Three words : prison industrial complex.


I thought this article would have something to do with all of the prisoners dropping dead. Glass? Glass between the lawyer and the perp. Unconscionable.

Thanks to lawyers like stewy, we the taxpayer will probably have to foot the bill for a $5Million renovation.


There won’t be any renovation. They’ll still utilize the glass separated unit for non-privileged visits ( i.e. family members ), and have conference/interrogation rooms for attorney – client confabs.


Oh gosh, now I won’t be able to sleep worrying about prisoners rights.

Mr. Holly

I could go along with this if the attorneys will submit to searches and even strip searches at times. There has been too many occasions where attorneys have smuggled guns and other illegal contraband into jails and innocent people have been killed because of this.


Prove it. I’ve never heard of a single instance.

But I don’t necessarily disagree with having attorneys do embarrassing things. just on principal.


Attorney’s should NOT have to do anything embarrassing to gain access to a client. What is wrong with you? Do you understand the implications here and the ability for the LE to harass attorneys that they don’t like if such a practice were allowed?

What ever happened to innocent until proven guilty anyway?


It’s not the attorneys who smuggle things in for the prisoners, Holly, it’s the guards. They need the money from selling drugs, cigarettes and other contraband to prisoners to supplement their meager pay and benefits.


Agreed, why else has the guard’s union stopped all attempts to put cameras in all areas.

Rich in MB

of course they did….then they couldn’t beak, kill, rape, and sell contraband to the inmates. The prison guards belong in prison themselves.


Looks like it is time for Parkinson to get another raise or ask for another speed boat to play with.


Not surprising. San Luis Obispo County is on the dark side of the moon.


I do find it telling that a court has to tell law enforcement agencies that they have to uphold the Constitutional rights of the accused instead routinely violating or circumventing those same rights.

I read a report the other day that mentioned the head of training for the police academies in Washington state stating that she used to view the Constitution as an impediment to making a “good” arrest, but has finally come around to fully understanding that officers of the law are supposed to not only uphold the laws and enforce them, but that they too have to abide by the laws and operate by the book. We are seeing a sea-change in public attitude about how it is that law enforcement is done in our country, and that the culture of the brotherhood of police officers has to focus on doing their jobs in a manner that protects not only the citizens that they serve, but also the rights of the accused, and if an officer goes outside what is permitted in making an arrest, that “brotherhood” is eventually going to stand up for true justice, not protecting their own when one of them steps over the line.

It seems like a challenging job, rewarding at times I’m sure, frustrating at other times, but ultimately the job has to be done in accordance with the very laws they are sworn to uphold.


You’re absolutely correct and I would never change anything where our rights are concerned or extend the line that LE can legally cross. With that said, I do have to say that I had an interesting experience the other day. .It had to do with a friend I was visiting who lives in Paso Robles and as it turns out, he lives about 800 feet from a citizen who was at the center of an illegal search/seizure and the attempt to cover up the violation of his rights by the local Sheriffs. Unfortunately for the Sheriffs (but good for the Citizens), it was all captured on video and the video went viral. As a result some LE were dismissed from their jobs. I for one was outraged at the obvious abuse of authority.

Moving Forward:

My friend who didn’t even know about the prior incident or arrest of his neighbor began to tell me about his “crazy meth head neighbor” who lives across the field from him on an adjacent street. He said that his neighbor is dangerous. That the neighbor is up all night for days at a time, has paranoia and calls him in the middle of the night about conspiracies and that he often shoots his guns off during the middle of the night . He said that one of these day’s an innocent neighbor is going to catch a stray bullet while outside or inside their own home for that matter. Then he mentioned the neighbors name. That name was familiar, it was Matt Hart!

I thought to myself, WOW, sometimes the police really do know what they’re doing and they’re really just trying to protect everyone, even if they have to violate a few rights. Not that I think it’s OK to violate someones rights but then, if I had a neighbor like Matt, I would look the other way if the LE stepped over the line to get a handle on his behavior.


What a surprise, Parkinson continues an existing, unethical and unconstitutional Draconian glass partition. Not much to see here, just another stain on his spotty and unprofessional gaps in judgment and policies. Triple the custody death rate, his failure to pay property taxes on time, refusal to take action against the most vicious intrusions by biker gangs and their machines……. Sigh, just not much to recommend our Sheriff to anybody.

Persons awaiting trial are NOT YET guilty, Parkinson, no matter how you want to punish them or make their pre-trial stay miserable.


Hey Lame, Parkinson was not the Sheriff forty years ago. He cannot change everything overnight.


Then how come he fails his modern “get-with-it” duty like it was 140 years ago in the South?

Don’t know about you, justice, I’m not a cop, but I’m a facilities guy with properties, including up to date “bandit barrier” level five experience, installing AND removing. Could have been upgraded with pocket change.

Parkinson doesn’t do what he doesn’t want to do. I’ve BEEN in a bank after hours during an install and it isn’t rocket science. The polycarbonate (Kevlar under the teller line where it doesn’t have to be transparent) stuff is for a single “special case” or violent case interview room in the jail, the rest is countertops and some walls. . My associates’ T.I. (tenant improvement and construction) team could bring that interview area into compliance in THREE DAYS. I can have them here from Ventura County in three HOURS. Just give me the bid specs.

I stand by my repeated assertions here that this Sheriff’s department, Parkinson at the helm, is spotty, grandstanding, and remiss in it’s performance. The money for his vanity patrol boat could have modernized the unconstitutional area with change to spare, and buy the Sheriff a Zodiac inflatable like the Seals use.