The opinion of the court was delivered by: Raye , P. J.
California Rules of Court, rule 8.1115(a), prohibits courts and parties from citing or relying on opinions not certified for publication or ordered published, except as specified by rule 8.1115(b). This opinion has not been certified for publication or ordered published for purposes of rule 8.1115.
This is a petition for a writ of habeas corpus by prison inmate Larnell Crosby. Petitioner filed an administrative appeal when prison officials refused to designate as confidential mail that was connected with a claim he was pursuing for veterans' benefits. Petitioner subsequently pursued relief by petition for a writ of habeas corpus. He claims he is entitled to confidentially correspond with the Department of Veterans Affairs (the Department), including its Office of General Counsel, and with a veterans service organization (VSO) of his choice. We previously found that he established a prima facie case, and we issued an order to show cause.
We now conclude that petitioner is entitled to have mail from the Department designated as confidential. As we shall explain, a state statute and regulation allow prisoners to correspond via confidential mail with elected or appointed officials and their employees. Those provisions apply here. Both the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, who heads the Department, and the Department's General Counsel are appointed officials. (38 U.S.C. §§ 303, 311.)
We further conclude, however, that petitioner is not entitled to have mail received from a VSO designated as confidential. As we shall explain, VSOs are not covered by statutory and regulatory provisions allowing confidential correspondence between inmates and groups of attorneys.
The procedure for handling incoming confidential mail to a prison inmate is described in the California Code of Regulations, title 15, section 3143. Mail is inspected to ensure it includes the name, title, return address, and office of a person listed in the regulations with whom an inmate is entitled to confidentially correspond. A notice or request that the mail be considered confidential is not required to appear on the envelope. If the mail is from an attorney, the attorney's return address must match State Bar of California (State Bar) records. Provided that mail meets these requirements, it is then opened in the presence of the inmate to whom it is addressed. It is inspected to ensure the absence of prohibited material, but staff is prohibited from reading the confidential correspondence. The inmate must sign for the mail.
Outgoing confidential mail is governed by somewhat similar provisions, which are described in the California Code of Regulations, title 15, section 3142. Mail must be addressed to a person or office of a person with whom an inmate is entitled to confidentially correspond and must include the inmate's full return address. If the mail is for an attorney, the attorney's address must match State Bar records. The word "confidential" must appear on the face of the envelope. The envelope is subsequently sealed, following an inspection for prohibited material that is performed in the inmate's presence. The inspection is performed by designated staff in a manner that precludes staff from reading the confidential correspondence.
According to the supporting documentation, petitioner has sent and received mail in connection with a claim for veterans' benefits that he pursued up to the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. The issues raised here are the right to confidentially correspond with (1) the Department and (2) VSOs that assist and represent claimants, such as petitioner, in pursuing their claims for veterans' benefits.
Petitioner filed an administrative appeal with respect to his claim that prison officials had failed to designate the mail as confidential. He pursued his administrative appeal to the director's level of review. He then filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in superior court, which was denied by the court without the issuance of an order to show cause. He subsequently filed his petition in this court, and we issued an order to show cause returnable before the superior court. (In re Crosby (July 6, 2009, C061865) [order granting order to show cause].) The superior court entered an order on August 19, 2010, denying the petition and discharging the order to show cause.
Petitioner then filed the current petition in this court. On April 21, 2011, we directed issuance of an order to show cause returnable before this court. Respondent Mike McDonald, Warden of High Desert State Prison, represented by the Attorney General, filed a return on ...