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Gary Swarthout, As Warden, Etc v. the Superior Court of Los Angeles County

August 16, 2012

GARY SWARTHOUT, AS WARDEN, ETC., PETITIONER,
v.
THE SUPERIOR COURT OF LOS ANGELES COUNTY, RESPONDENT; CULVER CITY POLICE DEPARTMENT, REAL PARTY IN INTEREST.



ORIGINAL PROCEEDINGS in mandate. Craig Richman, Judge. (Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. A468114)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Croskey, J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

Petition granted.

Petitioner Gary Swarthout, Warden of California State Prison, Solano, challenges, by petition for writ of mandate, the order of the Los Angeles Superior Court requiring him to temporarily transfer inmate J.T. to the Los Angeles County Men's Central Jail for investigative purposes. As the trial court lacked authority to issue the transfer order, we grant the petition.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

J.T. was convicted of second-degree murder and first-degree burglary in 1987, and sentenced to prison for a term of 19 years to life. He is currently housed at California State Prison, Solano, where Swarthout is the warden.

On April 19, 2012, the Culver City Police Department sought an order for the temporary transfer of J.T. to the Los Angeles County Men's Central Jail (L.A. Jail) for investigative purposes. The request for the order was made by means of an affidavit filed under seal.*fn1 The affidavit sought the temporary transfer of J.T. in connection with the Culver City Police Department's investigation of another crime, an investigation which purportedly could not take place without the transfer of J.T. The Los Angeles Superior Court, which had no proceeding pending against or involving J.T., issued the order.*fn2

The order was faxed to Warden Swarthout, who immediately contacted counsel in the Attorney General's office. Warden Swarthout and the Attorney General took the position that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to issue the transfer order. Unable to resolve the matter informally with the deputy district attorney who was working on the current investigation, Warden Swarthout filed a request to reconsider and vacate the transfer order.

A hearing was held on May 1, 2012. At the hearing, the trial court asked the deputy attorney general the basis for the warden's opposition to the transfer order; the deputy attorney general responded that the order was without legal basis. When pressed, the deputy attorney general also argued that, during the temporary transfer, J.T. would remain in the constructive custody of the warden, leaving the warden potentially subject to liability if J.T. were to attack the guards during the transfer. The court reviewed the sealed affidavit, and again ordered the temporary transfer of J.T.

On May 11, 2012, Warden Swarthout filed a petition for writ of mandate. By order of May 16, 2012, we requested opposition to be filed by the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office (DA). By letter of May 22, 2012, the DA indicated that it did "not believe it [could] represent the Culver City Police Department in the writ petition before this court." The DA forwarded the writ petition and our request for opposition to the City Attorney of Culver City (City), indicating that the City Attorney would be the proper party to respond. By letter of May 24, 2012, the City Attorney disagreed, stating that the DA should, in fact, respond to the writ petition and that the City not be designated the responding party. On May 30, 2012, we issued an order to show cause, and directed both the DA and the City Attorney*fn3 to file briefs.

CONTENTIONS OF THE PARTIES

Warden Swarthout contends that there was no authority for the trial court's order. Specifically, Warden Swarthout argues that there are statutes which provide for an order transferring a prison inmate to a county jail for specific purposes (Pen. Code, § 2620, 2621), and the trial court's order in this case does not fall within the scope of those statutes. The DA takes the position that the trial court's order was valid, but unenforceable. That is to say, the DA argues that Warden Swarthout possesses the authority to temporarily transfer J.T. if he chooses to do so, and that the court's transfer order could be interpreted as a request that Warden Swarthout transfer J.T. The DA concedes, however, that without Warden Swarthout's consent, the trial court could not compel the transfer of J.T. The City agrees that there is no statutory basis for the trial court's transfer order, but contends that it can be upheld as an exercise of the trial court's inherent authority to enable it to carry out its duties and ensure the orderly administration of justice. We conclude that there is no statutory basis for the transfer order, nor can it be upheld as a proper exercise of the trial court's inherent authority. We therefore grant the petition for writ of mandate.

DISCUSSION

Penal Code section 2620 provides that a court may issue an inmate transfer order "[w]hen it is necessary to have a person imprisoned in the state prison brought before any court to be tried for a felony, or for an examination before a grand jury or magistrate preliminary to such trial, or for the purpose of hearing a motion or other proceedings, to vacate a judgment." Similarly, Penal Code section 2621 provides for a transfer order when a prison inmate is a material witness whose testimony is required in a criminal action.*fn4 As ...


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